by Lachlan Labere Salmon Arm Observer A Kamloops minor hockey parent is speaking out against the prevalence of racism in the sport after a Salmon Arm player allegedly called her son the "N-word" during a game played last weekend in Sicamous.
Complaints regarding the alleged use of the racial slur have since reached the Okanagan Mainline Amateur Hockey Association (OMAHA) and the Salmon Arm Minor Hockey Association (SAMHA) and representatives of both organizations say the matter is now under investigation.
Sandy Horner was at the Sicamous and District Recreation Centre on Feb. 23, cheering on her 14-year-old son, a player with a Kamloops bantam tier 3 team competing against other Interior teams in three days of round-robin playoffs. That afternoon, as the ice was being cleaned during a contest between Kamloops and Salmon Arm, Horner's son called her over to talk.
"He was visibly upset and he told me what had occurred on the ice," Horner said, noting her son's coaches were with him when it was explained a Salmon Arm player was overheard using a racial slur against her son.
While upsetting to hear, Horner said it wasn't a unique occurrence.
"Sadly, my son is used to this happening and, as a rule, he does not report it any more because nothing is ever done about it," Horner explained.
The difference this time is that the racial slur was heard by a Kamloops teammate, who reported it to the team's coaches.
"In the past, even when we have said something, we've always been told there's nothing that can be done about it because only your son heard it or the refs didn't hear it ... What's great is that he has great teammates and he has great coaches," Horner said.
She said the incident was first reported to a referee, who asked her son to identify the Salmon Arm player.
"I watched the ref talk to my son and then the ref immediately skated over to the bench and spoke to the Salmon Arm coach and my understanding was the ref let the coach know which player it was," said Horner, adding the Salmon Arm player continued to play that weekend, despite the allegation.
"In fact, we played them in the finals Sunday afternoon ... my son was out there on the ice with him during that Sunday game, which we won 5-0," she said.
Minor hockey officials say any allegation of this type would be subject to an investigation and possible disciplinary action.
"It's being investigated and, of course, BC Hockey and OMAHA, as part of BC Hockey, take anything like that very seriously ... We are looking into it and trying to get to the bottom of it," OMAHA vice-president Terry Rolston said. "There's no place in the game, any game, for this type of behaviour."
Rolston said past use of racial slurs have resulted in suspensions of more than 30 days and, in some cases, suspensions have been indefinite.
Salmon Arm Minor Hockey Association president Tim Giandomenico is on the same page as Rolston regarding the use of racial slurs in minor hockey.
"We take it very seriously at the organization. This is one of the most, if not the most, serious of offences there can be -- not just minor hockey, but in any association," Giandomenico said.
"So, yeah, we're taking it very seriously and we're doing a thorough investigation right now, and that includes interviewing all parties involved."
Horner, however, isn't so much interested in creating repercussions for the Salmon Arm player as she is in shining a spotlight on racism in sport.
"Stuff happens in hockey, stuff happens in sports. Do I really think boys in Grade 8 and 9 are out there and it's all how-do-you-do and there's no F-bombs being thrown around or whatever? No," she said. "It crosses the line when it's a racial slur."
Horner describes her son as a passionate hockey fan who has been on skates since he was a toddler and has played hockey since the age of three.
"He has a passion for the game," Horner said. "He gets told that he's good at hockey because he's black. He spends a lot of time dedicated to hockey. He works hard at it, he spends a lot of time at home, making shots and playing street hockey.
"My son was born in Chicago, so he is a Chicago Blackhawks fan and probably he'd say (Blackhawks' captain) Jonathan Toews is his favourite player."
Horner said after Friday's game, she called up a friend, a Junior B player who has been a mentor to her son. She said he was livid, but explained the same thing happened to him the night prior.
"My whole point is this happens repeatedly. Specifically I'll speak to black players ...," said Horner. "It happens at all levels. And it just needs to come out in the open. There needs to be dialogue and conversation about it.
"Coaches need training, officials need training. Every year I go to my son's coach and say, 'I don't know if you've ever coached a black player before, but this will happen. It's happened every year to my son.' And they just kind of look at me wide-eyed ... and say, 'Well, what do you do?' And I'll say this is what you do. And they've had conversations with the players on my son's team as well, which is why his teammate reported it. But conversations need to happen."
Neither OMAHA nor SAMHA have zero-tolerance policies with regard to racism or sexism. Instead, such incidents are addressed under processes for dealing with abuse or harassment, which include prescribed disciplinary actions. For SAMHA, these include verbal and written apologies, suspension and expulsion from membership.
In addition, Rolston said Hockey Canada's Respect in Sport program is mandatory for all coaches and officials and, in some cases, parents.