Alberta minor hockey players were among those penalized the most for uttering discriminatory slurs or accused of doing the same, according to a report from Hockey Canada.
The national agency’s first Tracking Discrimination in Hockey report recorded 927 incidents nationwide in the 2021-22 season that were either penalized by on-ice officials or other allegations of verbal abuse.
Hockey Alberta tied for third in Canada for penalized incidents – 91 for a 0.13 per capita offense rate for offenses involving intimidation, insults and teasing based on discrimination, the report said.
Its 104 allegations of such acts not being seen by officials was second only to the Ontario Hockey Federation, which recorded 139 incidents.
“Collecting and reporting data related to Rule 11.4 – discrimination is an important first step in improving Hockey Canada’s ability to identify and address abuse in and around the sport of hockey,” the report said.
“As a first step, the data presented will serve as an important benchmark in Hockey Canada’s ongoing action plan to address systemic issues and end toxic behavior in the sport.”
Hockey Alberta moves to stamp out abuse
Slaughter targeting sexual orientation or gender identity was most common at 61 percent of penalized incidents, followed by ethnicity at 18 percent and disability at 11 percent.
Last September, Hockey Alberta announced it was creating an all-volunteer board to handle allegations of abuse and hiring one official and four investigators for the 2022-2023 season.
This is an approach that will ensure the new process for addressing such issues will be more transparent and consistent than in the past, the organization said.
The body said it recorded more than 200 abuse incidents or allegations during the 2021-22 season that led to 104 suspensions, all of which involved male players.
Of these suspensions, 55 percent centered around sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It’s honestly 200 (incidents) too many,” Hockey Alberta’s manager of minor hockey, Bryden Burrell, said in a podcast last month.
“We were able to find out if there are any hot areas in the province.”
These offences, he said, occur most among the under 15 and under 18 age groups.
With 34 suspensions and allegations, north central Alberta had the highest, followed by Calgary at 33.
“Ultimately we will see from that data what changes need to be made for future years to make sure it is eliminated from the game,” Burrell said.
Hockey Canada noted that because the report was the first, there may be some inconsistencies in rule application and data collection across provinces.
That could have skewed the Alberta numbers higher, Hockey Calgary executive director Kevin Kubelka said.
Hockey Calgary says it is concerned about incidents
Even so, that kind of abusive behavior remains a concern, adding: “we still see incidents happening … we like to see those numbers down for sure and we need to look at those numbers to continue to work for change to make. “
Hockey Calgary has held coach and player leadership workshops for the past five years, he said, featuring keynote speakers such as prominent former NHLer and anti-abuse advocate Sheldon Kennedy.
Ultimately, Kubelka said, education must play a role before disciplinary action such as suspensions is taken.
Hockey Canada itself has come under fire for how it has handled allegations of sexual abuse directed at players.
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A woman has accused several Canadian Hockey League players, including members of the 2018 world junior championship team, of sexual abuse, leading to widespread criticism of how Hockey Canada handled these allegations. It later emerged that the national organization had set up a fund from player fees which was partly used to address abuse allegations.
The controversy led to the resignation of the national body’s entire board of directors last October.
— With files from Dylan Short