Surrey, B.C., hockey parents question why coach was suspended after standing up to alleged racism

Parents and coaches of a boys hockey team in Surrey, B.C., are alleging their players were tageted with racial slurs.  (PhotoStock10/Shutterstock - image credit)
Parents and coaches of a boys hockey team in Surrey, B.C., are alleging their players were tageted with racial slurs. (PhotoStock10/Shutterstock - image credit)

A group of hockey parents in Surrey, B.C., is questioning why their sons' coach was suspended and then dismissed after standing up for players who they say were targeted with racial slurs.

Brian MacGillivray says he pulled the Surrey Minor Hockey Association Under-11 A1 boys team off the ice during the third period of a game on Feb. 17 after a number of players reported being called "monkey," "banana," and the N-word by opposing players on the Ridge Meadows U-11 A1 boys team.

MacGillivray says he heard Ridge Meadows' head coach and players shout "banana" every time Surrey's best player stepped on the ice.

Fourteen of Surrey's 16 players are South Asian, one is Chinese and one is Caucasian.

"You're looking at these little kids, they're nine, 10 and 11 years old and they're crying," said MacGillivray. "Some of the kids are like, 'I don't want to go back out there' ...  As the person in charge of these kids, their mental health ... they didn't feel safe. That's why we took them off the ice."

After a B.C. Hockey investigation, MacGillivray received a 30-day suspension for "refusing to start play," a violation of Hockey Canada rule 10.8.

Another investigation into the alleged racism is ongoing, according to B.C. Hockey president Cameron Hope.

The president of Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey said the organization is co-operating with the investigation and does not condone racism of discrimination of any sort.

"We deny allegations that our nine- and 10-year-old children used racial slurs, or knowingly made comments that could be inferred as racist, to or about the opposing team," said Nick Davis.

CBC has reached out to the Ridge Meadows coach and Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association for comment.

Surrey U-11 A1 assistant coach Justin Sayson said it makes no sense for B.C. Hockey to treat the issue of refusing to start play and alleged racism as unrelated events.

"[B.C. Hockey] said, 'Yes or no, did you refuse to take the ice? You did? Here's your suspension.' They never looked at why," said Sayson, whose son is on the team.

"I'm not sure where this racism investigation is at. B.C. Hockey hasn't contacted us. They haven't asked for any more information. They haven't given us a conclusion. So I don't know if it's still being investigated or if they've just swept it under the rug."

MacGillivray said he accepted an apology from Ridge Meadows coach Dale Lupul, who explained after the game that "banana" was a play-calling code, and that he was unaware the word could be perceived as racially derogatory.

"I really want to reiterate that I feel that this was ignorance and not a racial thing," MacGillivray said referring to the play-calling code that was used.

"It got into a racial thing with the words, but I just want to make sure that it is understood that it wasn't his intention, in my opinion."

Parents, MPs ask for more details

After MacGillivray's suspension ended, Surrey Minor Hockey Association did not offer to renew his coaching and honorarium agreement for next season.

"Players and parents are now demanding a response from the Surrey Minor Hockey Association on what they believe to be a targeted vendetta against their coach," reads a statement from team parents.

Surrey Minor Hockey Association president Jeff Shelton said MacGillivray's dismissal and the Feb. 17 incident are not related.

"One has nothing to do with the other," said Shelton. "Surrey Minor executive supported our coach's decision and what he did in that incident in February and we still do. I still support and agree with what he did."

Shelton said MacGillivray wasn't asked back because a review found players on his teams were not getting equal ice time.

In a letter addressed to Hope and B.C. Hockey,  Steveston-Richmond East MP Parm Bains and Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal asked to be given more details about what took place.

"It is very disturbing and disheartening to hear that young athletes would be exposed to discrimination or exclusion from a game they love," they wrote.