North·Racism in Hockey

No repercussions after Indigenous children called 'savages' at hockey tournament, parents say

Dre Wheesk and his teammates faced racist taunts and questionable refereeing, say parents and the coach of the Flamme Olympique, while at a tournament near Montreal last year.

Association that governs Quebec tournament says there's zero tolerance for any kind of abuse

Dre Wheesk and his teammates were subjected to racist taunts and questionable calls at a 2018 hockey tournament near Montreal, parents say. During the regular season, Dre plays for the South Porcupine Jr. Gold Kings, near Timmins, Ont. (Submitted by Marissa Quachegan)

This article is the second in a four-part series called Racism in Hockey, which is looking at allegations of discrimination in the sport. It follows CBC's coverage last year of the First Nation Elites, an Indigenous hockey team that faced racism at a tournament in Quebec.

Dre Wheesk loves hockey more than most things in life.

But after an incident at a tournament in Quebec last year, where parents of an opposing team called out racist words and yelled at him and his teammates to go back where they came from, his mom was worried.

"I felt sad for him," said Marissa Quachegan, from her home near Timmins, Ont.

"He loves hockey. They were taking that away from him ... I just felt like I wanted to cry."

Dre and his teammates were seven and eight years old, playing Novice AAA hockey for Flamme Olympique Hockey, an all-Indigenous spring and summer league hockey team. The organization brings together First Nation players at all levels of minor hockey from all over Quebec and Ontario to compete in spring and summer league tournaments.

He loves hockey. They were taking that away from him.- Marissa Quachegan, Dre's mom 

At the Tournoi Rocket AAA tournament in Terrebonne, near Montreal, in April of 2018, Quachegan says parents were yelling at the players in French and were aggressive, waiting in the hallway as her son and his teammates came off the ice.

"They were shouting out 'savages,'" said Quachegan, who is from the Mattagami First Nation.

"My son had no idea what [those words] meant, why those words were even being used, because he was just so young."

'I felt sad for him. He loves hockey,' says Marissa Quachegan, Dre's mother, who is from the Mattagami First Nation. (Submitted by Marissa Quachegan)

According to several accounts, parents of the opposing team were yelling "kawish," a pejorative term used in some parts of Quebec as an insult against Indigenous people.

Quachegan said coaches on the Flamme Olympique were also yelling and not trying to defuse the situation.

Two other parents and the Flamme Olympique coach, Donald Lucas, corroborated Quachegan's version of what happened. By all accounts, it was chaotic and deeply upsetting for everyone. 

"I've never experienced that before," said another parent, Sam Scheck, who lives in Timmins and is from the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario.

"I was in complete shock."

Scheck's son Sutton, who was 10 at the time, was playing for the Atom AAA Flamme Olympique team.

During one semi-final game, Sutton's team was beating their opponents by a large margin. The game ended and the yelling started, Scheck said.

I was in complete shock.- Sam Scheck, parent

"We are lined up on the blue line waiting for the three stars and the coaches just went off on us, yelling at us [and swearing]," he said.

According to Scheck and another parent, who was behind the bench for the game, the opposing team was upset because they had been beaten so badly and because of how strong the Flamme Olympique players were.

All the parents who spoke to CBC News said the Flamme Olympique teams had to deal with questionable refereeing during the tournament.

Donald Lucas, the coach of the Flamme Olympique, says he won't bring his teams to Quebec tournaments next year, because of the discrimination they faced. (Submitted by Donald Lucas)

"They tried everything to stack the cards against us," said Scheck. "We had tons and tons of penalties. We had two goals that were disallowed."

The Flamme Olympique team and their families ended up leaving by the back door of the arena and the police were called.

"Why should we go by the back door? We didn't do anything," said Lucas, the coach of the Flamme Olympique.

The Flamme Olympique Atom team came back later that day for the final and won the tournament.

After leaving by the back door of the arena after a semi-final game, the Atom Flamme Olympique team came back and won the Tournoi Rocket AAA, in April 2018. (Submitted by Donald Lucas)

Lucas said he verbally complained to the tournament organizers, but little was done. He said it's up to tournament organizers and the associations above them to put a zero-tolerance policy in place and start kicking people out of tournaments.

"If there's a parent or a fan threatening people or calling them names, they should ban them from hockey and from the arena," said Lucas.

He said he won't bring any of his teams to Quebec tournaments next year, but will instead sign them up to play in Ontario.

One of the parents of a Flamme Olympique player said she received an email from organizers apologizing for what they went through, but says it didn't go far enough.

'She said, he said'

Luc Monastesse owned the Tournoi Rocket AAA — the tournament where the events took place — until the end of the last season, when he says he sold it for health reasons.

He said he wasn't at the arena during the Terrebonne tournament and can't comment on what happened, but confirms that complaints were made about "racist and hateful" comments that were made. Monastesse also confirms that police were called, and the situation was out of control.

We are with children and we expect you to behave. ​​​​​- Daniel Loiseau, president LEHQ

As for the rest, he said it's "she said, he said" and there is little that could be done.

Flamme Olympique never filed a formal complaint with the association responsible for the Terrebonne tournament. 

Though spring and summer league tournaments aren't overseen by Hockey Québec, in February 2018 the organization came out with a guide to help associations deal with bad behaviour by parents in the stands, though it doesn't address racism.

Hockey Québec also said it will update its code of ethics to add specific language about racism at its annual general assembly beginning June 7. 

'We expect you to behave'

Daniel Loiseau is president of the LEHQ, the spring and summer league association that the Tournoi Rocket AAA is governed by. He said making the sport more welcoming for Indigenous people and minorities is a priority for him, and said he asked everyone in the LEHQ league to put up posters this year, making it clear there is zero-tolerance for any kind of abuse.

"For abuse toward the referees, other teams, organizers and everything," said Loiseau. "We are with children and we expect you to behave." 

On the way home from the Quebec tournament, Dre Wheesk asked his mom what the word 'savage' meant. (Submitted by Marissa Quachegan)

At the same time, Loiseau said has never suspended a parent, fan or coach for bad behaviour, but instead prefers to meet people individually and educate them.

None of the parents interviewed are back with the Flamme Olympique this season.

Dre's mom, Marissa Quachegan, said on the ride home from the tournament last year her son asked all kinds of questions about what had happened.

"He was asking what the word 'savage' meant and he was kind of questioning himself as a Native."

She said her son is strong and has moved on from the experience.

"I talked with my son. I just reminded him why they were there [at the tournament]," said Quachegan. "He went and played hockey and they should never let anyone take that away from him."

The series will next look at what arenas can do to address racism in the hockey, and hear from Quebec's Jr. education minister.