B.C. family calls for action amid allegations of racism in Coquitlam hockey

Click to play video: 'Allegations of racism in Coquitlam minor hockey'
Allegations of racism in Coquitlam minor hockey
A Coquitlam family says their 16-year-old son was forced to change minor hockey leagues because he was subjected to racism from teammates, coaches and other families. As Aaron McArthur reports, the family alleges the situation eventually escalated to an assault. – Dec 9, 2022

Editor’s Note: This story contains disturbing details that may trigger and upset some readers. Discretion is advised. 

A B.C. family is calling for more accountability and cultural sensitivity in youth hockey after their 16-year-old son was reportedly subjected to racism and bullying that escalated to an alleged assault.

The boy, who is South Asian, has played the sport since he was five years old, and until recently, played in the Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association.

Global News is not revealing his and his family’s identities to protect them from further harassment and because a criminal investigation is underway.

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“My kid deserves to play hockey just like every other kid. He is born here, and just because we have a different skin color, it shouldn’t matter,” the teen’s mother told Global News.

“Hockey should not be just a white sport like my son loves it.”

The story was first reported by CityNews.

According to the family, their son started being subjected to racial slurs in 2019, including the N-word.

His parents said that same season, another father posted a Ku Klux Klan lynching video that included burning crosses in a WhatsApp group for parents, meant to help arrange rides to practices. Global News has viewed the video, but can not independently confirm its origin in the chat group.

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New Canadian Doc Explores Systemic Racism in Hockey

The family complained to Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association, and said the association ordering parents to stop using the chat group, but the father who posted the video wasn’t sanctioned.

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The teen’s parents said the family was ostracized afterward and his next coach was warned that the boy was a “troublemaker.”

The family alleged their son continued to be bullied, was singled out after their complaint was lodged, and treated from other players — continually accused of being the instigator when incidents flared up.

In 2021, the family decided to move their son to the Port Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association.

“We tried to do everything the proper way. We went and complained to the association. We got racism advocates involved. I tried to get the mayor involved … so we left, we gave them what they wanted,” his mother said.

“It’s like, do they just not even want us to play hockey?”

Assault allegation

Things were going well in Port Coquitlam, the family said, until the teen played his former team on Oct. 15 at the Poirier Arena in Coquitlam.

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During the game, their son was given a game misconduct for a hit from behind. The family said the teen’s coach stood up for their son, later writing a letter saying it was an accident, not a dirty hit.

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The teen watched the rest of the October game from a spectator area, where other players parents — including the father who had posted the KKK video — were sitting, the family told Global News.

Towards the end of the game, the family said that man walked past their son calling him “spineless” and a “brown piece of s—.” The family alleged the man repeated the slur when he walked by again, at which point the teen’s father confronted him.

The teen’s father alleged the other man got “an inch away from my face” and challenged him to a fight as parents from the other team encircled him. He claimed the father who posted the video then attacked his son.

“This guy then comes back again like, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ He puts up his fists and he runs at us,” he recalled.

“First I’m thinking he’s coming at me and then he darts for (my son), punches him in the head, and and then (my son) punches him back.”

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At that point, the boy’s father added, the groups were separated and someone called the police.

But the family alleged the police tried to brush the incident off. The teen’s father suggested police wanted to “call it a wash,” noting that the offending gentleman “has already owned up to everything he has done.”

The family further alleged that in later contacts with police, the investigating officer was uninterested in hearing the backstory of alleged racism and bullying when the boy was with the Coquitlam association.

“I explained the whole thing from the 2019 KKK video, and now that we have a first game against them, this is what happens,” the boy’s mother said. “And (the officer) said this is an isolated incident. That has nothing to do with what happened on the 15th.”

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In an email, Coquitlam RCMP confirmed it responded to a reported assault at a game on Oct. 15 and that the file remains under investigation.

“Police have also been made aware of potentially hate motivated incidents leading up to the assault, which include a disturbing video shared within a group-chat,” it added.

“Coquitlam RCMP take all potentially hate motivated incidents very seriously. These allegations are currently being investigated to determine if any of these actions were criminal in nature.”

Calls for change

After the incident, the family said their son was given an indefinite suspension that ended up lasting for a month. It was only lifted when a reporter contacted the association, the family alleged, adding the teen is now banned form playing against his former team.

The family said the notice revoking the suspension also leaves a black mark on her son’s record, mentioning only the teen and his father’s actions, not those of the alleged offenders.

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Global News reviewed the notice, which states that the boy was removed from the game, and went to the spectating area where “an altercation ensued, involving a verbal exchange and striking a parent on the opposing team.”

“Regardless of history, a situation like this could and, and absolutely should have been avoided (sic). The actions of (the player’s) father … seem to have been complimentary to the situation that ensued,” it adds.

The notice concludes by saying a head coach and association executives will do all they can to mitigate risks to the teen’s family, other players and spectators.

The boy’s mother said someone out to acknowledge the “racial attack.”

“That letter should be changed. It says that (my son) struck the adult. No, the adult struck him and the adult called him a racial slur,” she said. “I would like that to be filed or changed or someone to speak up and said this. What happened wasn’t okay.

“As of now, we don’t want to play any Coquitlam teams, and we play a lot of Coquitlam teams, but we’re worried.”

The family said their son has developed anxiety and discomfort around hockey, and they have seen the joy sucked out of what was his favourite sport.

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In a statement to Global News, Port Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association’s president said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the incident because the player involved is a minor, but that the association does not tolerate violence, racism or bullying.

“I will say that Port Coquitlam Minor Hockey has a strict policy when it comes to the conduct of our players and parents, which they all sign off on each season,” Steph Wagner wrote.

“We hold those representing our association to our code of conduct, and for the safety of our players, parents and community at large, we strictly enforce it.”

The Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association’s board of directors released its own statement Thursday, also stating it could not comment on specifics due to RCMP and Hockey Canada investigations.

However, it said it was aware allegations of racism and discrimination.

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“CMHA takes these allegations very seriously and we do not condone or tolerate any such behaviour within our organization,” it said.

“CMHA wants to reassure the public that, in collaboration with BC Hockey and Hockey Canada, CMHA has processes in place to ensure that any allegations of this nature lead to thorough investigations and are followed by appropriate action as required.”

The family said it wants to see strong statements from both the Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam associations denouncing racism. More importantly, it added, those statements must translate into action against racial slurs and bullying that take place on ice.

Click to play video: 'Facing racism in hockey'
Facing racism in hockey

“Because small little things is what led to this,” the teen’s mother said.

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“Nobody addressed it and everything was brushed under the table and it just kept escalating and it kept giving people the courage, ‘Oh, we’re allowed to do this, right?’ Like now, just more than slurs. It led to actual violence.”

While the related hockey associations remain tight-lipped on the incident, the boy’s story has recently caught the attention of a prominent local hockey business and the Coquitlam Express BC Hockey League team.

On Thursday, The Hockey Shop released a statement saying it was disturbed by the allegations and suggested it could pull its funding.

“We do not support or condone racism or discrimination of any kind. We will not sponsor any association, business or program that does not support the same ideals,” the statement said.

The Coquitlam Express, a junior A team, also released a statement Thursday, saying it had been flooded with calls and text messages about the allegations. It offered its support to the teen.

“We were disgusted to read about the incidents that were described to have happened between players and parents, describing racist remarks and violence,” the statement reads.

“We have offered our support to Port Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association and Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association, as we want to make sure there is no place for racism and discrimination in hockey.”

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The family thanked the store for its support and said it has since received an outpouring of support that they’ve shared with their children since their story went public.

“It always just felt like we were fighting and nothing was happening,” the boy’s mother said.

“I know it gave all of them a bit of reassurance that someone’s listening and there’s a bit of change that might happen.”

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