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Equity on ice

As hockey culture faces a reckoning in Canada, the national women’s Para hockey team is fighting for equal treatment and funding from Hockey Canada.

Two young women and a young man in hockey jerseys sit on an indoor ice rink. They're smiling with their arms around each other.
Tracey Arnold, middle, wears her Hockey Canada jersey for the first time at a women’s Para hockey national team camp in 2019. She’s joined by teammates Devan Doxtator, left, and Jessie Gregory.Submitted by Tara Chisholm

Tears well up in Tracey Arnold’s eyes when she thinks about the first time her coaches presented her with a Team Canada jersey.

But as proud as Arnold feels when she wears the Canadian sweater as a member of the national women’s Para hockey team, she’s frustrated that Hockey Canada doesn’t fund her team.

As hockey culture faces a moment of reckoning in Canada, the national women’s Para hockey team is fighting for equal treatment and funding from Hockey Canada.

Growing up in the tiny village of Glen Ewen, Sask., about 75 kilometres east of Estevan, Arnold dreamed of playing hockey for Team Canada.

“For me, it was just a love, I think, at first sight,” Arnold said about the sport.


After being in a motor vehicle accident in 1990, when she was 12, she wasn’t sure her dream would ever come true. Arnold was diagnosed with an incomplete spinal cord injury and was told she would never walk again.

She left the sport for a while, but hockey never left her. Arnold felt like she was missing a part of herself, so she joined a local Para hockey team in Saskatoon in 2015.

Four years later, and nearly 30 years after her accident, Arnold’s dream of wearing the Canadian sweater finally came true.

“I didn’t ever think I would be able to meet that criteria again.”

Arnold always dreamed of playing for Team Canada. Her dream came true in 2019, when she made the national women’s Para hockey team. (Bob Holtsman/Submitted by Tracey Arnold )

To “be able to wear that maple leaf with pride and be part of a team that represents the foundation of the core of who I am morally, too, it was such an amazing feeling,” she said.

But the jersey she is so proud to wear originally had another athlete’s name on it.

In 2018, Hockey Canada gave the national women’s Para team jerseys that had originally been made for the national women’s stand-up team, according to the coach of the women’s Para hockey team.

Their volunteer staff had to remove the old name bars before giving them to their players. She said the team received another batch of jerseys from Hockey Canada in 2014 that were used.

“It’s quite disheartening and frustrating knowing that I put the time in and money and effort to be an elite athlete, to represent our country, and that I don’t fit the mold of what the organizing body deems as fit to do that,” Arnold said.

The national sport organization funds a program for men’s Para hockey, formerly known as sledge hockey, but the national women’s Para hockey team has to fundraise to compete.

A hockey stick is held over a puck on an ice rink. In the distance is a net and goalie.
Hockey Canada says its mandate is to operate national teams that compete for world championships and in Olympic and Paralympic Games, milestones the national women’s Para hockey team is still working toward. (Pat Ebert/CBC)

Hockey Canada didn’t provide an interview to discuss the level of support it provides the women’s national Para hockey team.

In an emailed statement, spokesperson Spencer Sharkey said the organization provides player insurance, the cost of registration with the International Paralympic Committee and “game jerseys” to the team “to help expedite the path towards a sanctioned women’s Para hockey world championship.”

“As a national sport organization, Hockey Canada’s mandate is to operate national teams that compete internationally for world championships and participate in the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games,” the statement says.

“At this time, there is no sanctioned world championship for women’s Para hockey, nor is it included in the Paralympic Winter Games.”

Funding the national women’s Para hockey team could help promote a more welcoming and safe space in hockey, Arnold said.

“Women with disabilities, we know, are some of the most marginalized people in the world, and if Hockey Canada can treat us in a way that promotes respect and equity, this would bode well for showing Canada that they can treat all people with respect and kindness,” she said.

“It would be a step in the right direction for them to consider something like that when they’re hopefully redesigning the culture of Hockey Canada.”

‘We want some equity’

On a weekend in September, Tara Chisholm is on the ice in Kamloops, B.C., running a Women’s Para Hockey of Canada camp for people interested in learning more about the sport.

The organization has received $230,000 from the Hockey Canada Foundation since 2019, money that can only be used for grassroots programming like this camp and not the national women’s Para team.

A handful of national team players came to the camp to volunteer as coaches while also squeezing in ice time with Chisholm, the head coach of the team, and assistant coach Derek Whitson.

Some members of the women’s national team volunteered at a camp in Kamloops, B.C., in September, and squeezed in some precious time on the ice working with their coaches.
Team members say Hockey Canada needs to re-evaluate its definition of what a hockey player looks like.
The national team athletes only get on the ice to practise together with their coaches three to four times per year.
Some members were able to get on the ice in British Columbia in September, after mentoring new players at a grassroots camp.
images expandSome members of the women’s national team volunteered at a camp in Kamloops, B.C., in September and squeezed in some precious time on the ice working with their coaches.

As the athletes work on puck control skills, they’re not wearing their Team Canada jerseys.

When members of the national team are at community events, they prefer to wear a jersey with the Women’s Para Hockey of Canada logo. They do that to try to raise awareness of the work their volunteer organization has been doing in their communities.

“There’s that misconception that when we wear that Hockey Canada logo, it means that we’re funded by them, and unfortunately right now we’re not at the national [team] level,” Chisholm said.

The national team athletes only get on the ice to practise together with their coaches three to four times per year, and Chisholm wishes it was more often.

Part of the problem is finding money to travel to camps and competitions.

“We definitely have women that are unable to afford it,” Chisholm said.


“That’s the reason that we lose them from the sport. It’s not due to their skill, talent, their lack of commitment or passion. It’s due to the fact that they have to choose whether they’re going to pay their bills, pay their rent or their mortgage or they’re going to play hockey.”

It’s a problem women at all levels of hockey face, as the top athletes in women’s stand-up hockey continue to fight for a sustainable league that pays a livable wage.
“I think people are now starting to say: ‘Hey, we’re not just happy anymore to be included or thought of,’” Chisholm said.

“We want some equity.”

What comes first: Funding or growth?

Hockey Canada has spent more than $38 million over the last four years on the men’s and women’s stand-up national teams combined, according to figures Hockey Canada staff provided before the House of Commons heritage committee this summer.

Those numbers show $4.2 million has gone toward high-performance Para hockey during that same time period. Hockey Canada didn’t answer a question about how much, if any, of that money went to the women’s side.

Hockey at the Paralympic Games is a mixed program, meaning both women and men can compete. But a woman has never made the roster for Team Canada.

“You’re asking a woman who’s on the outlier her whole career, who maybe doesn’t get looked at or supported by all her coaches, and doesn’t get the resources that her male counterparts do from grassroots, provincial and up, to try and crack that roster when she hasn’t been given all the necessities that her male counterparts have,” Chisholm said.

Maggie Manning prepares a stick before going on the ice in Kamloops, B.C., in September. (Pat Ebert/CBC)
Members of the national women’s Para hockey team are working toward the point where their sport has a world championship. (Pat Ebert/CBC)

The International Paralympic Committee won’t consider adding a women’s program until the sport meets certain criteria, including a minimum of eight countries that are able to field a team in a world championship, according to the committee’s handbook.

It leaves the sport with a circular problem: it needs to grow before the International Paralympic Committee will consider adding a women’s program to the Paralympics, but without a spot in the Paralympics, female athletes are blocked from accessing funding that could help grow and develop the sport.

“Hockey Canada and the Hockey Canada Foundation will continue to support Women’s Para Hockey of Canada and look forward to being in a position to further that support when the [International Paralympic Committee] can hold a women’s world championship,” Hockey Canada’s statement says.

Team Canada recently brought home silver medals from the 2022 Para Ice Hockey Women’s World Challenge, an international competition that also included competitors from the United States, the United Kingdom and a fourth team made up of athletes from other countries.

Growing to the point where the sport has a world championship is a check box not only for Hockey Canada and the International Paralympic Committee, but also for Sport Canada, the government body that provides assistance funding to high-performance athletes, Chisholm said.

WATCH | Women’s national Para hockey team is calling for equal treatment:

That funding, often referred to as “cards,” is reserved for Olympic and Paralympic athletes, with few exceptions, said former Olympic kayaker Adam van Koeverden, who is now parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of sport.

He said it would be in Canada’s “best interest” to have a women’s Paralympic hockey program. But in the meantime, he pointed to $60,000 the federal government recently gave Women’s Para Hockey of Canada, specifically to “engage girls and women in Para hockey in underserved communities.”

“Sport Canada does fund women’s Para hockey, and I will acknowledge that we need to grow that funding and ensure that it gets to more athletes and grows the game,” he said.

‘We have to step up’

Chisholm points to her team’s rivals in the United States, where USA Hockey has added a women’s development Para hockey team, even though there isn’t a world championship or a female-only program in the Paralympic Games yet.

“We’re hoping that Hockey Canada looks to their neighbours down south and sees what that equity looks like from a male to female perspective in our sport,” Chisholm said.

The impact of USA Hockey’s approach to Para hockey shows up on the ice, according to Whitson, who was a member of Canada’s national men’s Para hockey team from 2007 until 2016.

A young woman and young man stand in front of a hockey rink smiling.
Tara Chisholm, left, and Derek Whitson serve as the national women’s Para hockey team’s head and assistant coach. They’re both volunteers who try to get on the ice with their players as often as possible. (Pat Ebert/CBC)

The women’s team lost 5-1 to Team USA at the World Challenge final in August, a result the Canadian team saw as a key development moment, given their American counterparts are able to get on the ice together more often.

On the men’s side, Canada hasn’t beaten the Americans for Paralympic gold since 2006, a track record Whitson points to as proof that Canada needs to do more to support Para hockey.


“We have to step up,” said Whitson, who competed in two Paralympic Games.

“We always want to be the gold standard, to be the top of the world. The U.S. has done an incredible job over the last decade on the men and the women’s side. They have found a way to support their athletes, and their results are showing for it.”

Redefining the definition of a hockey player

Back in Saskatoon, Arnold is preparing for a busy hockey season. She’s balancing a full-time job with the Saskatchewan Health Authority plus regular games for local and provincial teams on top of being a wife and mother.

When the national team starts a new season, she knows she’ll be on the hunt again for sponsorships. Being a goalie means extra travel to get specialized coaching not available to her at home. She estimates it cost close to $10,000 to play last season.

She dreams of a day when her team receives more financial support, maybe even a day when she can represent her country at the Paralympic Games.

“To be fully funded and our country aware that we exist? That’d be phenomenal.”

Arnold is preparing for another hockey season where she’ll be balancing working full time, playing and being a mom to her son, Silas Riegel. (Submitted by Richard Riegel)

To get to that point, Chisholm says Hockey Canada needs to re-evaluate its definition of what a hockey player looks like.

Traditionally, programming has been geared toward people who are white, male and middle class, she said.

“But the reality is that there are so many people that love hockey, whether it’s with people with disabilities, new Canadians, people from our LGBTQ+ community that want to be comfortable and in a safe space,” she said.

“There’s so many more Canadians that could be involved in the game if they saw themselves in it. My advice — it would be put those Canadians on pedestals and let the rest of Canada know that you are an organization that encourages and welcomes all Canadians into your sport.”

Copy editing by Janet Davison | Produced by Angela Gilbert

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