CBC hockey commentator Ron MacLean has apologized for his comment about French-Canadian referees during Tuesday night’s Stanley Cup playoff game between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, and won't be reprimanded.
Chuck Thompson, head of media relations for CBC, confirmed in an email Tuesday afternoon that MacLean would not face disciplinary measures for suggesting during the second intermission that a French-Canadian referee should not be working the game.
The context for MacLean's comment was a controversial call by another French-Canadian referee in the third game of the first-round playoff series that Lightning coach Jon Cooper said cost his team the game.
MacLean said the fact the NHL assigned another French-Canadian referee to officiate Game 4 was meant to send a message to Cooper.
MacLean’s view was challenged by fellow Hockey Night in Canada commentator Elliotte Friedman, who said it was “unfair” to suggest French-Canadian referees were partial to Montreal.
“So you’re saying there should never be a French referee in Quebec,” Friedman eventually asked MacLean.
“Just this time, after what happened in Game 3,” MacLean replied.
The Canadiens beat Tampa Bay 4-3 to sweep the series and advance to the next round of the playoffs.
CBC says MacLean was 'misunderstood'
Thompson said MacLean's comments have been misinterpreted.
"Ron's comments were misunderstood as they had nothing to do with francophone referees. He was simply making the point that assigning a local referee was a questionable call by the league as it could have given the opposing team [in this case Tampa] an opportunity to cry foul had there been any controversial calls," Thompson said.
"Ron apologized and clarified his remarks later in the broadcast, saying it would be no different if you assigned a ref from Alberta for a game involving Calgary or Edmonton playing another NHL team."
Still, Gilles Duceppe, former leader of the Bloc Québécois, called MacLean's comments "racist" and said the longtime HNIC commentator should be disciplined.
"He was not talking about a local referee; he was talking about a French referee, which is quite different and just unacceptable, and I think CBC should take measures to discipline MacLean," Duceppe told Bernard St-Laurent, host of CBC Montreal's Radio Noon program.
MacLean 'didn't intend to go down that path'
During CBC's coverage of a later playoff game, MacLean tried to clarify his comments, saying he meant to say a “local referee” should not have been assigned to Game 4 given the controversy surrounding another local referee in the previous game.
"First of all, I want to say I'm sorry. It's divisive any time you become about French and English in our country. But I didn't intend to go down that path," he said.
MacLean said excluding local referees would mean both anglophone and francophone officials from the Montreal area should not be assigned to Canadiens games.
MacLean also pointed out that it is common practice in international matches to use referees from a third country.
Critics of MacLean were quick to point out that the referee who made the controversial call in the third game of the Canadiens-Lightning series, Francis Charron, is from Gatineau, Que., which is closer to Ottawa than Montreal.