PEI

'No winning' for N.S. goalie who was target of racial slurs on P.E.I.

The teenage boy who had racist slurs hurled at him during a hockey tournament in Charlottetown last fall said Friday he was satisfied with the ruling from a Hockey P.E.I. disciplinary committee, but says overall, “there’s no winning in this.”

Mark Connors reacts to Hockey P.E.I.'s 25-game suspension for 5 young players

P.E.I. hockey players suspended after hurling racist slurs at Nova Scotia goalie

10 months ago
Duration 2:03
Five hockey players from P.E.I. have each been suspended for 25 games after a disciplinary hearing found that they had hurled racist slurs at a Nova Scotia goalie during a hockey tournament in fall 2021.

WARNING: This story contains language that may be triggering to some readers.

The teenage boy who had racist slurs hurled at him during a hockey tournament in Charlottetown last fall says he's satisfied with the results of a Hockey P.E.I. disciplinary committee process, but adds that overall, "there's no winning in this."

Mark Connors, a Black goalie from Nova Scotia, was subjected to repeated racist slurs and taunts at the Falcons Early Bird Tournament, which was held in Charlottetown from Nov. 18 to 21, 2021.

The disciplinary committee suspended five minor hockey players from the Island for 25 games for targeting Connors, after a Feb. 1 virtual hearing during which they and their parents denied the teens taunted the Halifax goalie from the stands while he tended the net.

"The way it affected me, and the way it will affect them — it's going to be with us for the rest of our lives," Connors said Friday from his home rink in Halifax. 

Connors said he wished the people involved had owned up to their actions. He'd also like an apology. 

Wayne Connors, Mark's father, said some moments during the committee hearing 'sunk him in the heart' as a father. (Brian MacKay)

"Those slurs are very hurtful," he said. "They have to live with it. I know mistakes happen. Sometimes you have to live with them and sometimes it's better to own up to them.

"I'm not making this up," he added, saying he went through this process so that players who follow after him won't have to. "There needs to be the correct punishment and the right diversity inclusion training for them."

Education component of ruling

In the report released Friday morning, Hockey P.E.I.'s committee said that in addition to the suspension, the five Island players "must complete an educational or learning experience to the satisfaction of the executive director of Hockey P.E.I."

It went on to say that the education would have to go beyond a "general training session or online webinar, where the player is merely present" and ensure that the players are fully engaged with the process. 

After completing the training and serving out their suspensions, the players would be eligible to return to play. 

The players have 48 hours from the time they were notified of the decision, Friday morning, to signal whether they intend to appeal.

A racial slur attacks the very core of what it means to be recognized as a person.- Hockey P.E.I. ruling report

In its report, the committee gave the reasons for its decision.

"A lengthy suspension is required in order to reflect the seriousness of this type of conduct and to recognize the degrading nature of racial slurs," said the report by the governing body's discipline and ethics committee, which examined the case. 

"A racial slur attacks the very core of what it means to be recognized as a person."

Because they are minors, Hockey P.E.I. is not identifying the players being penalized as a result of the incident.

Training aspect welcomed

Both Mark and his father Wayne Connors think the training is vital to the outcome of this. 

"It can't be a webinar, or 'check the box' on a computer,"  Wayne Connors said Friday. "I think it should be the coaches, the executives and the managers on the teams who should take this diversity training, and then maybe at a hockey practice, take a half hour on the ice and [say]: 'Let's talk about it.' I know it makes people uncomfortable, but it has to be addressed." 

Mark Connors is shown in his Halifax Hawks goaltender gear, in a photo from around the time he experienced racial slurs at a hockey tournament on P.E.I. (Wayne Connors)

He'd also like Hockey Canada to take a bigger role in preventing racism in the sport. He said he's satisfied with the ruling but would like to have the teams take responsibility and denounce racism. 

Both Wayne and Mark Connors said the process of speaking in front of the committee was tough for them.

It's like he didn't count... It hits you in the heart.- Wayne Connors,  father of Mark Connors

"One thing that stuck with me is that one parent said: 'No person heard it.' At the end, Mark said 'I'm a person and I did hear it,'" Wayne Connors said.

"It's like he didn't count. It's like his colour made a difference. It kind of sunk me a little bit. It hits you in the heart."

Connors, a goalie with the Halifax Hawks U18 AA team, said the N-word was directed at him during the first game he played in the Charlottetown tournament, at Simmons Arena.

"Some of the younger kids in the stands were calling me a racial slur. One guy said Halifax has a n----- for a goalie," Connors said after the tournament. "In the third period they kept on talking, saying 'n-----, n-----, n-----.'"

The Halifax player said some of his teammates and coaches heard the comments coming from the stands that day, and would go on to testify at the disciplinary hearing. 

Hockey P.E.I. appointed a five-member committee to address the case, though two people recruited through a local BIPOC advocacy organization resigned before the process got fully underway.

Players admitted 'chirping'

The report notes that during the virtual hearing on the November incident, the players who were facing suspension and their parents denied the Halifax teens' allegations, saying there was no proof racist remarks were uttered.

They did admit to "chirping" the player to agitate him, and one player told investigator Darrell Scribner that Connors had skated over to the group at one point and called them "racist f---s." 

According to the report, Scribner said that part of the testimony "added validity to the statement from [Connors] that he heard racial slurs." 

The report also noted that Connors had told his coach about the racial comments during the game, and the coach asked officials "to keep their eyes and ears open." 

Witnesses sought for hotel incident 

The report also addressed a separate incident that same weekend in the hotel where some players were staying. Connors reported facing more racist abuse from P.E.I. players, including that he shouldn't play hockey because it's "a white man's sport."

Hockey P.E.I. has confirmed the incident, which led to police being called, happened at the Hampton Inn and Suites.

The committee said in its report that it had established a different group of hockey players were involved in that incident, and therefore it wouldn't be addressed in this report. 

"The committee remains deeply concerned that players associated with Hockey P.E.I. appear to have been involved in the incident at the hotel," said the report. "The committee recommends that the investigation into the incident at the hotel remain open."

I don't think the gravity of this was missed for one second.- Connor Cameron, Hockey P.E.I.

Hockey P.E.I. executive director Connor Cameron is asking anyone who could assist with identifying those involved at the hotel to come forward.

Cameron also said Hockey P.E.I. took opportunity to restructure the discipline and ethics committee's mandate to better handle matters involving racism.

"The committee did an unbelievably thorough job," he told CBC News on Friday. "I don't think the gravity of this was missed for one second."

Apology from Hockey P.E.I.

During the interview with CBC, Cameron apologized to Connors and said the organization would turn its attention to educating players, coaches and parents to help prevent it from happening again.

"If there can ever be a silver lining for Mark Connors, I hope it's that Hockey P.E.I. is spurred on to educate, to take a real stance and to be a community leader, to make sure that racism is not accepted in any shape or form within the game of hockey," Cameron said.

Connor Cameron, executive director of Hockey P.E.I., encourages anyone who witnesses racism to report it to the organization. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

He said racism is a societal issue and the culture of hockey allows it to "seep into the rinks." He encouraged anyone who witnesses racism to report it to Hockey P.E.I.

"In 2022 it's not good enough to turn the other cheek. You need to speak up and we need people to speak up in the rinks so these things do not happen."

Lots of support

After the incident in November, Connors received support from near and far, including a phone call from P.E.I. Premier Dennis King and messages of support from a Grade 4 class on Prince Edward Island.

Connors said Friday that support bolstered him when he was down following the incident. 

NHL player P.K. Subban also posted his support for the teen on social media, writing: "When does it stop? Believe it or not these stories are sent to me everyday. "Hang in there, Mark! We got you."

In the wake of the November tournament, officials with the Halifax Hawks organization said none of their teams would play in any hockey tournaments on the Island until Hockey P.E.I. dealt with complaint of racist comments. On Friday, the Hawks released a statement saying that boycott is now over.

"We acknowledge the decisions rendered and hope the emphasis on anti-racism education, that accompanies the suspensions, achieves the desired results," the statement said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Clow

Senior Producer

Julie Clow is a senior producer at CBC in P.E.I.

With files from Brittany Spencer and Shane Ross

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