As a former N.S. MLA and a member of the first all-Black line in Canadian university hockey, Percy Paris is no stranger to racism.
He says it was “more relevant when we were on road trips.”
“Opposing teams and their fans would often use racial slurs that were directed at me,” Paris tells Global News.
He says he wasn’t surprised, but was “saddened” to hear the experience Mark Connors had at a tournament in P.E.I. last month.
Paris says racism has been a fight that previous generations have taken on.
“It’s one that we should’ve taken care of years ago,” he says. “It still is here.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to the spot, certainly not in my lifetime; I think there will always be racism,” Paris says. “I think what we can do and what we can do and what we can hope for and what we can strive for is to lessen it.”
But he says organizations and corporations should’ve been more proactive decades ago.
“Hearing the complaints, and there were complaints 50 years ago, there were complaints 100 years ago,” he says. “If they had been more proactive in their solutions, then we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation today.”
Connors’ love of the game is clear.
Over the weekend, he laced up his skates, but not to stop pucks.
He’s part of a coaching team that is helping Black youth get a start on the ice and in the game of hockey.
Connors, a 16-year-old goalie for the Halifax Hawks U18 AA team who is Black, says racist slurs were directed at him by a group of teenagers in the stands during a game in the P.E.I. capital and again at the hotel where teams were staying. He said he was repeatedly called the N-word and at the hotel he was told hockey was a white man’s sport.
His team, the Halifax Hawks, have since boycotted games on the Island.
Paris applauds the move.
It wasn’t Connors’ first encounter with racism within the game, but he knows he’s likely not alone.
“There’s probably numerous Black kids that we don’t even know that are being called these slurs, being called these words, and being treated differently and being treated wrong,” Connors says. “And it needs to stop.”
Connors appreciates the support he’s received.
“I’m getting a lot of people reaching out,” he says. “My phone’s been blowing up a bit.”
“I appreciate PK Subban and Kevin Weekes for posting my story on Instagram, and my teammates supported me through this, my family, and basically everyone.”
Cheryl MacDonald, a sports sociologist at Saint Mary’s University, says for each step forward in social progress in hockey, it feels like there are two steps back.
“I think the key is finding that balance between making sure that the athlete feels self-confident, feels valued, knowing that they are important and they matter no matter what their identity is, whether that’s racial, gender,” she says.
“But the other half of that is also preparing the environment a little bit for the athlete and making sure that it’s more equitable and that involves teaching folks about their biases and making sure that we’re more mindful.”
Paris is calling on all levels of hockey, and society as a whole, to take a stronger stand on racism, but says it starts in the classroom.
Meanwhile, Rane Carnegie, a former hockey player for the Halifax Mooseheads and founder of a mentorship and life skills development company, says, “It is extremely disappointing to hear that Mark was targeted repeatedly by individuals with racist remarks.”
Carnegie, who is Black, had previously launched a campaign to get his grandfather inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Ex-Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau has said Herbert Carnegie didn’t get into the league because of the colour of his skin.
But for Rane, he applauds Connors for sharing his story.
“The fact that Mark has the courage to stand in the sun and share his story is absolutely amazing but sad at the same time,” Carnegie says in a statement to Global News.
“If we as a society, can learn, that we are all humans who just want this world to be safe and fun and full of love and respect, then we must protect each other and be kind,” he says.
— with files from The Canadian Press