As a young girl growing up in the hamlet of Aklavik, N.W.T., Davina McLeod couldn’t keep off the ice.
Her hockey journey would take her to Wilcox, Sask., and eventually, to Calgary to play for the SAIT Trojans.
But a racial slur aimed her way during a 2020 game against Red Deer College felt like a slap in the face.
“I felt so defeated,” McLeod recalled. “I went to the bench, and you can’t say anything, right? As a teammate, in that instance, there are no words to make you feel bigger than what you feel right now. I felt so small.”
Now, Hockey Canada is updating the rulebook in hopes of recognizing and removing similar acts of discrimination like the one McLeod experienced.
In a news release, the organization said its 13 members unanimously approved the adoption of Section 11: Maltreatment in the rulebook starting the 2021-22 season.
Section 11 brings all forms of maltreatment under one section of the rulebook and provides “guidelines for escalating penalties based on the severity of the inappropriate behaviour from players and team officials.”
“Hockey Canada has made a firm commitment to making the game safe and inclusive for all who wish to participate, and the introduction of Section 11 provides our 13 members, local hockey associations and officials across the country with clearly-defined criteria for enforcing rules related to many different forms of inappropriate conduct,” said Tom Renney, chief executive officer of Hockey Canada.
“We believe this is a great step towards ensuring we limit the number of incidents that occur on and off the ice, and will allow players of all ages to enjoy our game free from abuse, discrimination, racism and all forms of maltreatment.”
Certain infractions will include an indefinite suspension pending a hearing, as well mandatory hearings for repeat offenders.
“Any player, goaltender or team official who engages in verbal taunts, insults or intimidation based on discriminatory grounds shall be assessed a Gross Misconduct penalty.
“Discriminatory grounds include the following, without limitation:
– Race, national or ethnic origin, skin colour or language spoken;
– Religion, faith or beliefs;
– Sex, sexual orientation or gender identity / expression;
– Marital or familial status;
– Genetic characteristics;
“The referee shall report the individual(s) by completing a Game Incident Report including full details and submitting the report to the appropriate member or league delegate.”
McLeod is pleased by the move and wishes a reporting framework was in place while she was playing.
“I wouldn’t have had to protest what happened to me just because it would have been right there outlined, and there would have been no if, ands or buts about it,” McLeod said.
“I wouldn’t have had to fight for what I truly believed was right, and it wouldn’t have been such a daunting process.”
Dr. Courtney Szto, co-author of the Policy Paper for Anti-Racism in Canadian Hockey, says the change is a meaningful step forward, but words will need to be backed up with action.
“Writing the policy is arguably the easiest part,” Szto said.
“The hardest part is enforcing it and holding people accountable. Now, what Hockey Canada has to do is teach its officials to understand the breadth of what racist, sexist and homonegative language entails, and that language is changing all the time.”
Hockey Canada and its members also approved a new national reporting system “for incidents of discriminatory taunts, insults or intimidation, both on the ice and outside of game play.
“The new rule and reporting system includes, but is not limited to, discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, skin colour, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.”
Hockey Canada said the system will provide information on where maltreatment incidents happen, their frequency and will help the group “take progressive steps to eliminating incidents through action and education.”
Szto hopes Hockey Canada will use a third party for the reporting system to ensure transparency.
“The fact that they’re going to be tracking this is great,” Szto added. “But again, it’s like who is responsible and do the players have trust and participants have trust in the system?
“A lot of it just isn’t reported. So, if we have a trustworthy reporting system, the numbers should go up because people believe in the system. If you have low numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a lot of harassment and abuse, but it could also point to the fact that nobody thinks anything will be done either.”
Local hockey associations will be given education resources about maltreatment, including a Section 11 officiating module and coaching resource document, Hockey Canada said.
“The addition of Section 11 to the Hockey Canada Rulebook is a major step towards making the game more inclusive for all, but the reporting system will allow Hockey Canada and its 13 members to proactively implement change through education and create a better understanding of where issues are occurring,” said Scott Smith, president and chief operating officer of Hockey Canada.
“As we continue to learn and help foster an environment that is diverse, inclusive and safe, we believe the updated playing rule will greatly benefit all participants and allow more young children and adults to enjoy the game.”