Canada's largest youth hockey league changes approach to dealing with racism, discrimination

Canada's largest youth hockey league says it is taking steps to "address issues of racism and discrimination in minor hockey."

GTHL releases previously withheld data on instances of racism, homophobia, misogyny

The Greater Toronto Hockey League has released data that shows the number of gross misconduct penalties the past few seasons. ((Kevin Light/CBC Sports))

Canada's largest youth hockey league says it is taking steps to "address issues of racism and discrimination in minor hockey."

The Greater Toronto Hockey League, home to more than 40,000 players and one of the biggest leagues in the world, has released data that captures how often incidents of racial, homophobic and misogynistic language have occurred in the past three years. The league had previously refused to make the information public.

"We've heard from a number of our players and families wanting to actually know what is going on in our organization," GTHL executive director Scott Oakman told CBC Sports. "We reflected on our prior positions, which we firmly believed were reasonable in the time it was established, but current events dictate that there's a greater desire to have transparency.

"We are at a moment in history where monumental change is happening. It's an incredibly important time for all of us to reflect on what we do and how we operate."

According to statistics provided by the GTHL, five players were issued gross misconducts for racial language during the 2019-20 season. Nine players were penalized the season before and six in 2017-18.

(Tanya Casole-Gouveia/CBC Sports)

"I don't want to get into specific language … but it was a range of comments based on a player's background," Oakman said.

A bigger issue for the league appears to be players using misogynistic language.

Of the 197 players who were issued gross misconducts last season, 172 were for misogynistic language, a number Oakman attributed to a change in the way the league documented these types of infractions.

"On the soft side, language like 'you play like a girl' but much more graphic," Oakman said.

Scott Oakman, executive director of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)
The league says the number of actual incidents is undoubtedly much higher than the numbers show. Oakman conceded the numbers released by the league only capture what officials actually hear.

"In most of our games we have two officials on the ice, sometimes three and there's a lot of interaction that takes place out of the earshot of officials. These numbers aren't any kind of conclusive evidence of what actually occurs."

Oakman said the league will be holding a virtual town hall for players and families and has committed to establishing an independent committee. One of the things the yet be finalized committee will examine is "how the league can encourage reporting by players and parents who are subjected to racism and other discrimination."

It will also look at how the GTHL handles complaints made against spectators, parents, officials and coaches.

"I have heard from a number of families in the last few weeks whose experiences are not captured in these numbers," Oakman said. "People are speaking out about their experiences that we weren't aware of so we want create an environment of openness and comfort so that people feel safe to come forward with issues."

Oakman said the league will also review how it penalizes players who receive gross misconduct penalties. Currently players receive an indefinite suspension that is usually converted into a number of games after a review by the league.

"If you were looking for an average, it would probably be between five and eight games," Oakman said.

Oakman also said the league needs to do a better job to ensure that the victimized player is actually included in the disciplinary process, which, up to now, has focused mostly on hearing from the offending player.

"In some instances we do (hear from the victim), but not in all cases and I think that's something we should be considering"