Hockey P.E.I. needs to update social media policy, handle on-ice racism better, says lawyer
'Policies have to be living documents which you're looking at, not yearly, but on a regular basis'
Hockey P.E.I. needs to update its social media policies, considering its controversial decision to indefinitely suspend a player who took to social media to criticize its handling of on-ice racism, says a Halifax-based lawyer.
Will Russell, who is with Sports Law, was referring to the case of Keegan Mitchell, who took to social media to react to a two-game suspension handed to a member of the Kensington Vipers Junior B team for an anti-Asian racial slur aimed at one of Mitchell's teammates.
Mitchell, who plays for the Sherwood Metros, also received a two-game suspension when he slashed the offending player's leg. In the social media post, Mitchell said he was defending his teammate and criticized Hockey P.E.I. for its handling of the situation.
As a result of the post, Mitchell is now facing an indefinite suspension due to violating the social media code of conduct set out by the organization.
Russell said policies are meant to be "living documents." Hockey P.E.I. last updated its social media policy eight years ago.
"Policies have to be living documents which you're looking at, not yearly, but on a regular basis. There's an opportunity to look at this and say, 'does it reflect the values of our organization and does it do what we want it to do?'"
Making hockey a safe place for everyone
Hockey P.E.I. needs to be more patient and careful in handling issues such as Mitchell's, Russell said, and needs to look at "the bigger picture" of making hockey a safe space for players.
"It is important to make sure that we are trying to set standards and expectations of communication," he said.
"Part of it is to say 'this is what we view as something that isn't keeping with our values or culture of our sport.'"
Social media policies are meant to prevent bullying and harassment, Russell said, and are an extension of an organization's code of conduct.
"They really just set out the standards and the expectations of behaviours of participants, be they players, parents, coaches, the staff," he said.
"It sets up, it acts as a baseline for what the expectation of behaviours are going to be in this case involving social media."
According to Hockey P.E.I.'s code of conduct, Mitchell's violation is a minor infraction.
2-game suspension not enough
Russell also criticized the length of suspension given to the player who made the anti-Asian remark.
Hockey P.E.I. suspended the player for two games, but according to Hockey Canada, suspensions for such issues should be at least five games, Russell said.
Hockey P.E.I. defended its decision to hand out a two-game suspension, citing that every case is uniquely handled.
Russell said it's best for Hockey P.E.I. to revisit its decision making process, while ignoring the media backlash to provide fair judgment.
Sport P.E.I. said local and specific sports organizations may craft their own social media policies, if they so choose.
CBC News contacted Hockey P.E.I. for additional comments, but it declined.
- An earlier version of this story said Sport P.E.I. declined comment. In fact, the organization did comment, and its comments are now included in the story. Also, lawyer Will Russell is based in Halifax, not P.E.IJan 12, 2022 9:48 AM AT
With files from Brian Higgins