A black minor hockey player from Gatineau, Que., says he was the target of repeated racial taunts and intimidation on the ice over the past season.
David Godwin, 14, plays for Aylmer Sailboats Bantam BB level. He said players from an opposing team targeted him with the N-word slur while he was on the ice.
On one occasion, Godwin said he was compared to the animals of the African jungle.
“It went on all year,” he said.
The alleged incidents all took place during games between Godwin’s team in the Aylmer Minor Hockey Association (AHMA) and a team from the neighbor Gatineau Lièvre Minor Hockey Association (AHMLG).
CBC is not naming the opposing team or players due to an ongoing internal investigation by the association.
The two teams have met six times this season for league games under the auspices of Hockey Outaouais. This organization recently observed a sharp increase in discriminatory behavior since the league resumed play after its last COVID-19 shutdown.
Frustration mounts, player fights back
Godwin’s mother, Vicky Deselliers, said her son told her about the first time he was called N-word on the way home from the game.
“I can’t even explain the expression on his face,” she said. “He wasn’t sad…he was just shocked.”
Then, in early March, in what he said was the third time he had a racist taunt on the ice, Godwin fired back.
Smartphone video of the incident obtained by CBC shows Godwin punching an opposing player from behind. The player falls and collides with the boards. The words spoken by the players on the ice are not audible in the video.
Godwin said he was ejected from the game and suspended from his team’s next game.
Deselliers said when she went to meet her son after the incident, her lips were quivering and her eyes watery. Godwin said the opposing player told him to skate faster, then insulted him and used the N-word.
Ottawa morning3:23Mother of Quebec minor hockey player says racial abuse tarnished his season
Hockey association says it has limited power
The other player missed several games due to injury, according to AHMA president Daniel Dupuis.
Following the incident, Deselliers and David’s team coach complained to the president of their local hockey association in emails that were obtained by CBC.
Neither contested the penalty for the illegal blow awarded to Godwin, but both called for more substantial action against opposing players using racial slurs.
Dupuis said he supports tough penalties for racial taunts and discriminatory behavior on the ice, but on-ice officials need to witness it and report it.
“If the referees can identify the kid saying that, it will be dealt with immediately,” he said. “The kid gets kicked out. …He’s gone. He’s suspended.”
A 2021 update to the Hockey Canada rulebook established new penalties for “abuse,” which includes racial taunting. The sanction is an automatic suspension of five games.
Dupuis said he wanted the punishment for the racial taunts to be “the rest of the year.”
Regardless of the penalty, Dupuis said the referees must either witness the incident or report it to them during the game. A specific individual must be identified as the culprit.
This did not happen in any of the incidents involving Godwin, according to AHLMG President Vincent Britt-Guy. This organization would have been responsible for issuing a suspension.
In French, Britt-Guy said the player would have been suspended for the rest of the year had the incident been reported in-game.
Disciplinary measures have reportedly been taken against the team
Dupuis said he notified the presidents of the local hockey associations involved each time he received a complaint about an incident involving Godwin.
“It’s not normal what happened,” said Pierre Montreuil, president of Hockey Outaouais.
“Racism is not acceptable and there have been measures taken… The association [is] follow the team very closely to make sure everything is going well.”
Shortage of referees is a contributing factor
Evidence that such language is used on the ice can be elusive.
Experienced minor hockey referees have been rare across Quebec in recent years and the problem is particularly acute in the Outaouais region.
Although low salaries are a contributing factor, many experienced referees leave minor hockey due to intense harassment and threats from coaches and parents.
Dupuis said his organization is doing everything it can to educate players, coaches and parents about abusive, discriminatory and racist behavior.
“Are we going to get rid of all this? I don’t know,” he said.
Abuse won’t drown pro hockey dreams
Godwin said he would not allow the abuse he faced on the ice to deter him from his dream of playing professional hockey.
He cites watching NHL veteran PK Subban, who is black, as a key inspiration for pursuing hockey at a young age. Godwin hopes to one day be a role model for young players.
“It’s the sport I love,” he said.
“I want to do it for the next generation who are going to come and experience the same thing.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.