Ontario city settles complaint over use of Indigenous-themed mascots and logos

An interior of a courtroom at Old City Hall court in Toronto. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

TORONTO – Indigenous-themed mascots, names, imagery and symbols used by non-aboriginal sports teams will be removed from arenas and other facilities in Mississauga, Ont., under a mediated settlement before the province’s human rights tribunal, the complainant said on Thursday.

The agreement reached late last month ends a complaint from a resident businessman, who said he found the use of such names and imagery offensive.

“(The settlement) recognizes native mascots as a human rights issue,” Bradley Gallant, a business consultant and member of the Qalipu First Nation, said in an interview.

“It’s not tradition. It’s something that you can no longer say you’re doing it because it’s honouring us – because the intent of your use of a mascot doesn’t matter; it’s the effect or the harm that the mascot causes.”

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Gallant filed the complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in 2015 because he said he didn’t want his children to grow up feeling ashamed of their heritage. He said Mississauga, just west of Toronto, should not provide funding to teams with racially insensitive names and logos, like the Mississauga Chiefs or Lorne Park Ojibwa.

He said he also wanted the city to remove banners featuring the teams’ names and logos from municipal buildings, arguing they contribute to a harmful and discriminatory environment.

In all, his complaint named seven teams in the province with racially insensitive names – five in Mississauga. Two of the teams had already changed their names and logos before the settlement.

“It’s a very wide problem but you attack the issue where you can attack the issue,” Gallant said. “I was just getting tired of every building I walked into in Mississauga having a native mascot. I thought it was time for a change.”

The city, which had argued that the teams were responsible for names and logos, said the agreement reached Nov. 30 was already being implemented.

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“Staff are working with the sports associations who use our facilities to ensure the removal of the trophies and banners from city facilities,” Shari Lichterman, director of recreation, said in a statement.

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In addition, Lichterman said the agreement recognized Mississauga’s “long-standing, strong and respectful partnership” with the Indigenous community.

Gallant has previously said he didn’t see any harm in such names and logos but that his views began to shift in 2014 in light of controversy surrounding the NFL’s Washington Redskins. He said he grew to see the names and images as a holdover of colonial attitudes and eventually told his daughters, who are both goalies, they could not play in such teams.

In addition to removing the offending materials, Gallant said the city also agreed to enhance its diversity and inclusion training and to develop a policy related to the use of Indigenous themes and images at its facilities in consultation with various First Nations groups.

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Gallant called it a “very good start,” saying he wants to be able to go into a mall or an arena without being offended. Use of these names and symbols creates a “poisonous environment” for Indigenous people, he said.

“I just don’t want to see corporate-sponsored or institutionally sanctioned racism,” Gallant said. “I’m not looking to point fingers, just hoping to move back to a better place.”

Gallant said a similar deal was reached in September with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, which has also agreed to bar students from wearing or displaying Indigenous mascots at school or at school-related events. In addition, he said the board agreed to amend its dress code.

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Ontario’s Human Rights Commission intervened in the case and was a party to the resolution.

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