A 16-year-old Halifax hockey player who was called the N-word on the ice three years ago says he has again been subjected to racial slurs, this time during a recent tournament in Charlottetown.
Mark Connors, who is Black, is a goalie with the Halifax Hawks U18 AA team. He said the N-word was directed at him again during the first game he played in the Falcons Early Bird Tournament, which was held Nov. 18-21.
“Some of the younger kids in the stands were calling me a racial slur, one guy said Halifax has a n—-r for a goalie,” said Connors. “In the third period they kept on talking, saying n–, n–, n–.”
Connors said some of his teammates and coaches heard the comments that were coming from the stands.
From there, he said the weekend got even worse.
Other teams in the tournament were staying at the same hotel as the Hawks. Connors said players from a team in P.E.I. started hurling more racial abuse when he and a teammate walked back to their rooms after checking out the hotel gym.
“When I walked by them they said, ‘You shouldn’t be playing hockey, this is a white man’s sport.’ “
Connors said he did his best to stay calm and did not engage. The incident was reported to hotel staff who then called Charlottetown police, who dealt with what they said was a noise complaint.
Hockey PEI, the governing body for organized hockey on the island, has launched an investigation.
The organization said in a news release that it learned of the situation on Nov. 24 and received further information on Tuesday.
“This process will be thorough and may take some time due to the complex nature,” Connor Cameron, executive director of Hockey PEI, said in an email to CBC. “We have no further comment until the investigation has been completed.”
Part of that investigation will include a Zoom meeting late next week between Connors and his family and Robert MacMillan, Hockey PEI’s suspension co-ordinator.
The two incidents on the same weekend have Connors and his family very upset. They come three and a half years after Mark’s father, Wayne Connors, spoke publicly about how his son had been called a racial slur at a peewee hockey game.
Near the end of the 2017-18 hockey season, an opposing player called Connors, then 12, the N-word after Connors stopped him on a breakaway. That player was suspended for 45 games, which he began serving at the start of the next minor hockey season.
Premier contacts family
Wayne Connors wrote a letter to Cameron outlining what happened to his son at the Charlottetown tournament and the disappointment they are now feeling after facing racist remarks for a second time.
The letter was copied to Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King’s email. The next day, Wayne Connors got a phone call from King.
“I was on the road in Cape Breton at the time for my work and he called me directly and he was very apologetic,” said Connors. “It was more of a father to father conversation because he has a son who is a goalie, too, and he knows these kinds of comments should never happen in this day and age.”
King wanted “to reiterate that racism cannot and should not be tolerated” anywhere and is hopeful there will be a thorough investigation, according to a statement from the premier’s office.
Halifax Hawks Minor Hockey president Spiro Bokolas said his executive team is putting their support behind the Connors family. New helmet decals are being made with Mark Connors’ jersey number 31 and the words “Hawks Against Racism” wrapped around the Hawks logo.
“We are disgusted by the racist actions of players and parents during a game that all have a right to enjoy,” said Bokolas.
“I am sick to my stomach just thinking about it and will continue to follow up with Hockey PEI and Hockey Nova Scotia to see that this gets addressed appropriately.”
The Halifax Hawks executive has also decided none of their teams will play in any further P.E.I. hockey tournaments until the matter is settled.
“This is a hard decision and the Hawks will have close to 700 potentially disappointed players that won’t attend P.E.I. tournaments until we see real change,” Bokolas said in a news release issued Wednesday.
Hockey execs confident issue will be addressed
Hockey Nova Scotia executive director Amy Walsh said she can’t comment on the specifics of the matter as it is being investigated by her P.E.I. counterparts.
Soon after the March 2018 incident Connors endured, Hockey Nova Scotia moved to formally examine racism in hockey and developed a diversity and inclusion task force.
Although the governing body doesn’t track diversity numbers, Hockey Nova Scotia says there has been much work done over the last two years to combat racism in the game in the province and to make it more inclusive.
“There’s no place for racism in society and hockey is no exception to that,” said Walsh, who has three boys of her own who play minor hockey.
“There has been a huge emphasis put on zero tolerance around maltreatment and I’m pretty confident in our Hockey Canada family and how this will be addressed.”
According to officials in P.E.I., it could take weeks before the investigation is complete.
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.