BIPOC group 'disturbed' by allegations 16-year-old hockey player faced racial slurs

BIPOC USHR's executive director says she was "disturbed" when she heard a 16-year-old was allegedly called the N-word multiple times during a hockey game in Charlottetown.

Halifax player Mark Connors said he was called the N-word at a game in Charlottetown

BIPOC USHR executive director Sobia Ali-Faisal said she was 'disturbed' when she heard a 16-year-old hockey player was allegedly called the N-word multiple times during a game in Charlottetown. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

The executive director of a P.E.I. advocacy group says she was "disturbed" when she heard a 16-year-old was allegedly called the N-word multiple times during a recent hockey game in Charlottetown.

Halifax player Mark Connors, who is Black, said he faced racial slurs during his first game of the Falcons Early Bird Tournament, which was held last week.

The Halifax Hawks U18 AA team goalie said players from a team in P.E.I. later approached him and a teammate at the hotel where the teams were staying and told them that hockey was a "white man's sport."

"I feel really sad for the young man. He's only 16, he's a child. And especially when I read this wasn't the first time this has happened to him," said Sobia Ali-Faisal, the executive director of BIPOC USHR (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour United for Strength, Home, Relationships).

"[The N-word] is such a damaging word, and for a young child to have to heard that, it has a huge psychological impact. So I felt really awful for that young man, I felt disturbed. But I wasn't surprised, and that made me sad."

Ali-Faisal said her organization hears from a lot of young people in P.E.I. who experience racism in school, including being called racial slurs by peers.

The Hawks say they will boycott all tournaments in P.E.I. until the situation is addressed.

Wayne Connors, Mark's father, said he sent a letter to Hockey P.E.I. outlining the allegations. The letter was copied to Premier Dennis King.

He said he had a phone call with the premier afterwards.

"It was a father to father call, and that goes a long way in my book," he said. "I want to thank him."

Connors said that his son was affected very negatively by the incident.

"I know he tries to hide things, but fathers know their sons and so do mothers," he said. "He went over very happy to play the game of hockey, win or lose. And it's unfortunate this had to happen.  It's just like we're taking a step back."

In a statement, the premier's office said it's hopeful the incidents get investigated by Hockey P.E.I.

Mark Connors, a goaltender with the Halifax Hawks, says he was the target of racial slurs at a hockey tournament in P.E.I. (Wayne Connors)

"Premier King reached out to Wayne and expressed his sincere apologies about the experience his son had in Prince Edward Island and to reiterate that racism cannot and should not be tolerated in any province or in any setting, ever," the statement said.

Hockey P.E.I. said in a statement that it opened an investigation into the allegations after it was informed of the incident on Nov. 24. 

It said it received additional documentation Tuesday, and that it will share its findings once the investigation is complete.

"Hockey P.E.I. has a zero-tolerance policy on any act of discrimination or hatred within our game or society as a whole, and takes these allegations of maltreatment very seriously," it said.

Ali-Faisal said there needs to be some education on the issue of racism for any meaningful change to happen.

"Educating young people, educating anyone involved in Hockey P.E.I., having them understand what anti-Black racism, what racism is, what anti-blackness is," she said.

"Educate their parents as well ... If kids are hearing this at home, if their parents are allowing them to think this way and to talk this way, then the education ... may actually be countered at home."

Wayne Connors said racism doesn't belong in the game of hockey.

"Just take the feelings of others in account, you know," he said. "These things are hurtful and it doesn't belong in our game."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

With files from Steve Bruce and CBC News: Compass