Manitoba Junior Hockey League to introduce anti-racism education, automatic suspensions for discrimination

The Manitoba Junior Hockey League says it’s taking steps to create a more respectful hockey culture by introducing anti-racism education and punishing those who discriminate against others.

Starting next season, players, coaches and support staff will be provided anti-racism education seminars, the league announced Wednesday. Seminars will cover Indigenous issues, as well as anti-discrimination and anti-oppression education, a news release says.

The goal is to educate league members about discriminatory and oppressive language, help them identify “problematic behaviours” and ultimately create a more respectful and inclusive hockey culture, the release says.

Various conversations within the league last season led commissioner Kevin Saurette to believe the MJHL should be doing more to address racism and discrimination in hockey, he said in the release.

“We know that discrimination unfortunately still exists in our society,” he said in the release, and anti-racism education is required in order for change to occur.

‘We know that discrimination unfortunately still exists in our society,’ MJHL comissioner Kevin Saurette said in a news release, and anti-racism education is required in order for change to occur. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The seminars will be taught by Ebb and Flow First Nation member Wade Houle, a former MJHL player who identifies as Métis and Anishinaabe and is now a high school teacher in Dauphin. He also consults on discrimination and racial sensitivity training, the release says.

“I’m extremely excited,” Houle told CBC News.

“It’s the perfect time. It’s always a great time [to learn], but even more urgent now than ever. And it’s a great opportunity for these young men, these families and the personnel to learn an intersecting reality for me.”

Houle once played for the MJHL’s Dauphin Kings and he is still close to the game. He was witnessing many cases of racism occur in the world, so he proposed running an anti-racism education program to Saurette last winter, Houle said.

It was voted on at the league’s recent annual general meeting, he added.

The finer details still needed to worked out, but Houle would be teaching for several hours per seminar. He plans to lean on a number of authors and books, other educators and his own personal experiences. There will also be an interactive component, he said.

“It’s always a challenge to lay out ideas that are relatively new to non-BIPOC people. As I lay out some of this information, it comes off as just my truth,” Houle said.

“But week after week, piece of evidence after piece of evidence … just reaffirms a lot of the messaging that I get out there about racism, discrimination, prejudice and stereotypes, our culture and how we were socialized.”

Houle hopes to bring that to the MJHL and that it helps the entire Manitoba community as a result.

Minimum suspensions for discrimination

Seminars will “lay the foundation for learning about racism and discrimination,” the release says, and will deal with topics like race, gender and cultural issues.

Racism has been ongoing in the league for “many years” and it’s time to do something about it, said Murray Clearsky, chief of Waywayseecappo First Nation — home of the league’s Waywayseecappo Wolverines — in the release.

“To experience it first-hand, it really pisses you off,” said Clearsky, adding that all non-treaty people in Canada should be educated on the issue.

In addition to the education seminars, the league is announcing automatic minimum suspensions for anyone in the league — including MJHL players, team officials and executives — who is found to have discriminated against someone, the release says.

Someone who verbally taunts, insults, intimidates or otherwise discriminates against someone will be suspended three games for a first infraction, five games for a second and an indefinite suspension for a third infraction, the release says.

The league did not specify how investigations will work or how incidents will be reported, but says anyone failing to co-operate in an investigation could be suspended.

Starting point, not an end point: anti-racism expert

The league’s announcement is an important step in that it acknowledges racism and discrimination, and acknowledges that those issues need to be addressed, says a University of Manitoba anti-racism expert.

But education and potential suspensions alone are “a point of departure, not an end point,” Delia Douglas, the anti-racism lead for the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, told CBC News.

She says being anti-racist is an everyday act and at this point, the league has introduced a mechanism that could help — but doesn’t change the culture on its own.

“A policy is a step, but it’s certainly not the only step, because without other supports and resources, it does become ineffective,” she said. If that happens, “you will violate people’s trust because they will not believe that you’re doing this in good faith.”

Douglas has many questions, including how incidents will be reported, how the league can ensure a safe space for anyone — especially Black and Indigenous people and people of colour — to report incidents of discrimination, and who will decide what counts as an infraction. She also wonders whether parents could be disciplined.

Douglas hopes the league also realizes that racism is complex and allows for comprehensive education over time.

“You can’t go from zero to … understanding the complexity and the contradictions around racial violence,” after a single seminar, she said, adding that there are many forms of racism.

Hopefully, if these initiatives are done properly, the players can focus on the joy of sport — pushing themselves as elite athletes and building relationships, Douglas said.