A Hockey Canada report released last week showed 512 penalties for discrimination were called by officials across the country in 2021-22, and 71 of them were from the Hockey Eastern Ontario — the third most of any association in Canada.
The report, which was released late last week, details the application of a new rule Hockey Canada introduced in August 2021 meant to address maltreatment.
A penalty call for discrimination in minor hockey, women's hockey and senior men's hockey has resulted in an indefinite suspension (minimum of five games) pending a hearing. As of this season, junior hockey players are also subject to a five-game suspension, according to the report.
Jeff Baker, director of operations for Hockey Eastern Ontario, said the number shows referees are holding players accountable, and players need to know discrimination is unacceptable.
"It's concerning. But on the other hand, I believe the numbers are attributed to the fact that our officials are actually calling it at a very strict pace," he said.
"Players are being suspended and we're going to start seeing those numbers decline."
More needs to be done
Julie Womack, whose son plays AA hockey for the Ottawa Sting in eastern Ontario, said the high number of calls for discrimination indicates a culture change is necessary.
She said her son, who is biracial, is often targeted with racial slurs when he is on the ice.
"It's very emotional. It's very hard and it's very stressful and it causes a lot of anxiety because this is a sport he loves," Womack said.
Justin Davis, who played two seasons for the Ottawa 67's in the late '90s before he was drafted by the NHL's Washington Capitals, recently wrote a book about toxic hockey culture.
Davis was not surprised by the number of discrimination calls. He said this has been an issue for a long time "but we've never talked about it and it's never been reported."
"The problem that we have is actually finding somebody guilty, or actually reporting that they've done it," he said.
"When people make these comments, I've been in a couple of investigations with it, and everybody says, 'Well, until they hear it in person, they can't do anything,'" he said.
Davis said making permanent changes to hockey culture will take years but the release of these findings shows Hockey Canada is committed to doing the work.
"I would hope by releasing these numbers, then people are a little embarrassed by what's going on, and they want to be a part of the solution," Davis said.
Data will help pave the way forward
In a statement, Hockey Canada said the report is an important step forward and the data from the 2021-22 season will help the organization understand "what is needed to better track, identify and respond to maltreatment in hockey."
"Hockey Canada acknowledges that there is a need to gain a better understanding of the types of maltreatment permeating in our sport, and their related manifestations, in order to successfully position ourselves to collectively address these in a tangible way," the statement continued.
Hockey Canada announced in July it would introduce mandatory training for all national team athletes, staff and volunteers in the organization.