Legault's all-white hockey committee draws criticism for diversity goals

Some critics and advocates are calling out Premier François Legault for appointing a committee comprised entirely of white people to boost hockey development in the province, with a focus on accessibility and diversity.

'If there's no representation, it's not going to change anything,' says former NHL player Georges Laraque

A new committee appointed by Premier François Legault and charged with increasing the number of young people playing hockey in the province is being criticized for its all white membership, despite promoting diversity in the sport being one of its goals. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Some critics and advocates are calling out Premier François Legault for appointing a committee comprised entirely of white people to boost hockey development in the province, with a focus on accessibility and diversity. 

On Thursday, Legault announced the 15-member team, including former National Hockey League (NHL) players and women's hockey stars, will be charged with submitting recommendations on how to get more Quebecers into the NHL and increase the number of young people playing hockey. 

But former Montreal Canadiens enforcer Georges Laraque said the province missed the mark with the committee's make-up, which he said works against its goals. 

Former NHL tough guy Georges Laraque says convincing more young people to play hockey should start with attracting immigrants. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"How could you be attracting minorities to come and play hockey if there's no representation of them in the group that's trying to do so?" Laraque asked.

"If there's no representation, it's not going to change anything." 

Laraque said convincing more kids to play hockey won't be achieved through attracting more Quebecers — "Hockey is always going to be in their genes," he said — but rather through enticing new immigrants. He said newcomers are currently deterred from picking up the sport due to lack of representation and longstanding issues with racism in hockey.

"Hockey cannot survive if minorities don't get interested," he said.

Lack of Indigenous representation

Mike McKenzie, chief of the Innu nation of Uashat mak Mani-utenam, said he was surprised by the lack of Indigenous representation on the committee.

"If we're talking about changing the model, the way of viewing hockey in Quebec after a number of years, there is a new reform [the province] wants to work on, but First Nations are not included," he said.

"We also have models. We have experts who played in the NHL and the Quebec junior league," McKenzie said, adding that he'd like to see at least one of these experts added to the committee. 

Multiple Indigenous minor hockey league players have been subjected to racist taunts and discriminatory calls in recent years, which prompted Hockey Québec to update its code of ethics on specific language regarding discrimination. 

At Thursday's announcement, Legault said interest in hockey is declining in the province and there are fewer people playing the game. The focus of his committee will include developing athletes and coaches, along with making the sport more accessible. 

It will also address the development of women's hockey as well as attracting "a diverse and inclusive clientele."

The committee is expected to submit its recommendations to the minister responsible for sports, Isabelle Charest, by April 1, 2022. 

Quebec Premier François Legault is flanked by Sports Minister Isabelle Charest and former NHL goaltender Marc Denis at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Thursday, November 18, 2021. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

'Have the right people at the table'

Moezine Hasham, founder and executive director of the Hockey 4 Youth foundation, said getting more people into the game starts with removing financial, gender and cultural barriers, which his group has been working to do for years. 

The non-profit organization seeks to make the national sport accessible for everyone by getting rid of obstacles that discourage girls, those in low-income households, BIPOC youth and new Canadians from playing hockey.

"I'm not really sure if the composition of the committee and what they're studying is really going to hit the challenges that exist within hockey," said Hasham.

Hasham wants Legault's office to consult with and invest in grassroots organizations that are already trying to make the sport more accessible. 

"Once you establish that connection with young people and show them that the game is for them, it makes it a lot easier to get them to step onto the ice for the first time," he said. 

"If you're going to invest time and money into a committee that's going to work on accessibility in hockey, then have the right people at the table."

Based on reporting by Valeria Cori-Manocchio