Hockey P.E.I. dealing with appeals from suspended players in Mark Connors case

At least some of the five Prince Edward Island hockey players handed 25-game suspensions on Feb. 11 after a Black goalie from Halifax reported being targeted racially have filed appeals with Hockey P.E.I.

5 Island players were handed 25-game suspensions after racial taunting complaint

Mark Connors reacted to the Hockey P.E.I. decision on Feb. 11 by saying nobody really won in the case and the incident is 'going to be with us for the rest of our lives.' (Brian MacKay)

At least some of the five Prince Edward Island hockey players handed 25-game suspensions on Feb. 11 have filed appeals with Hockey P.E.I.

The players were suspended in the Mark Connors case — he's the teenage goalie from Halifax who says the P.E.I. players directed repeated racial slurs at him during a game in Charlottetown at a tournament in November. 

In addition to the suspensions, the players were ordered to take anti-racism education after a virtual disciplinary hearing.

The appeals process must be completed within seven working days, the governing body has confirmed. If the players don't agree with the result, they could then appeal to Hockey Canada.

Citing the young age of the players and the need to let the process run its course, nobody from Hockey P.E.I. would agree to do an interview with CBC News. 

From the start, the parents of the five western P.E.I. players identified as a result of the investigation have called Hockey P.E.I.'s disciplinary process unfair.

She noted that no official heard them, no parent heard them, and no witness in the rink heard them.— Section of Hockey P.E.I. disciplinary report quoting suspended player's parent

The parents say media reports — not to mention public statements deploring the alleged racist actions by both the governing body and P.E.I. Premier Dennis King immediately after Connors and his father spoke out — unfairly scapegoated their children before the process even began.

The parents and players were not identified in the report from Hockey P.E.I.'s discipline and ethics committee, with the governing body citing the fact that all the players were minors. CBC News reached out to members of the boys' community in an eventually unsuccessful attempt to find and interview the parents. 

But according to the written decision Hockey P.E.I. handed down last week, all the families said there was no supporting evidence that anything of a racist nature was said that day.

A section of the disciplinary report quoting a player's parent as saying 'not one person' heard a racial slur at the game. (CBC)

The report chronicles how the five players were seated in the stands at the Simmons Sports Centre watching the Halifax Hawks take on members of a different Island team. 

Connors, who is Black, was in net for the Hawks. 

He told his coach during the game, and a Hockey P.E.I. investigator in the weeks to follow, that the five people repeatedly called out to him using the N-word.

The players and their parents agree that the teens were "chirping" the 16-year-old goalie but insisted nothing of a racial nature was said. 

One mother who spoke during the virtual hearing disputed his account this way, according to the committee's report: "She noted that no official heard them, no parent heard them, and no witness in the rink heard them," calling the complaint about the slurs "implausible."

The parents also said the distance from the net to the stands in that area of the arena is too great for a goalie to hear much of what spectators say.

A section of the Hockey P.E.I. discipline and ethics committee report, describing what Mark Connors told a virtual hearing this month. (CBC)

The disciplinary committee rejected those arguments, however.

"The Committee found M to be credible… his evidence made sense and fit together with information from sources other than M," the report said. 

It added that during interviews with the investigator hired by Hockey P.E.I., "The five players minimized their participation or provided inconsistent information.… The evidence of the five players also did appear to be rehearsed." 

With files from Brian Higgins