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Minor hockey player says racial abuse has tarnished his season

David Godwin, 14, says he has faced repeated incidents of racial abuse from opposing players which have tarnished his hockey season in Gatineau, Que.

Association took action, but says powers are limited without concrete proof

Gatineau hockey player, 14, frustrated by racist taunts from opposing players

2 years ago
Duration 1:04
David Godwin, who plays for Les Voiliers d'Aylmer, says he’s faced racist abuse from players on opposing teams, and that reporting the incidents to coaches and referees has not led to a resolution.

A Black minor hockey player in Gatineau, Que., says he has been the target of repeated racial taunts and intimidation on the ice throughout this past season.

David Godwin, 14, plays for Les Voiliers d'Aylmer at the Bantam BB level. He said players from one opposing team have targeted him with the N-word slur while he was on the ice.

On one occasion, Godwin said he was compared to African jungle animals.

"It kept on going for the whole year," he said.

David Godwin, 14, says this season is the first time he has encountered racial slurs on the ice. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

The alleged incidents all took place in games between Godwin's team in the Association hockey mineur d'Aylmer (AHMA) and a team from the neighbouring Association de hockey mineur La Lièvre de Gatineau (AHMLG).

CBC is not naming the opposing team or players due to an ongoing internal investigation by the association.

The two teams met six times this season for league games under the umbrella of Hockey Outaouais. That organization recently noted a sharp increase in discriminatory behaviour since the league returned to play following its most recent COVID-19 shutdown.

Frustration mounts, player retaliates

Godwin's mother Vicky Deselliers said her son told her about the first time he was called N-word on the drive home after the game.

"I can't even explain the look on his face," she said. "He was not sad … he was just shocked."

Godwin's mother Vicky Deselliers, left, says she initially hesitated in enrolling him in organized hockey due to the high cost, but relented when his passion for the sport became clear. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Then in early March, on what he said was the third occasion he had a racist taunt on the ice, Godwin retaliated.

A smartphone video of the incident obtained by CBC shows Godwin hitting 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, his lips were shaking and his eyes were watering. Godwin said the opposing player told him to skate faster, then swore at him and used the N-word.

Burden of proof too high for reporting racist on-ice incidents, parent says

2 years ago
Duration 1:33
Vicky Deselliers, David Godwin’s mother, says it was heartbreaking to watch her son deal with racist taunts from other players and that it was difficult to get action because referees did not hear what was said.

Hockey association says it has limited power

The other player missed several games due to injury, according to AHMA president Daniel Dupuis.

Following that incident, Deselliers and the coach of David's team complained to the president of their local hockey association in emails which have been obtained by CBC.

Neither contested the penalty for the illegal hit issued to Godwin, but both called for more substantial action against the opposing players using racial slurs.

Dupuis said he supports strict penalties for racial taunts and discriminatory behaviour on the ice, but on-ice officials need to witness and report it.

"If the referees can identify the kid that's saying that, it would be dealt with right away," he said. "The kid is thrown out. ... He's gone. He's suspended."

Daniel Dupuis, president of the Association hockey mineur d'Aylmer, says he supports strict penalties for racial taunts during games played by his association's teams. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

A 2021 update to the Hockey Canada rulebook laid out new penalties for "maltreatment," which includes racial taunts. The penalty is an automatic five-game suspension.

Dupuis said he wishes the penalty for racial taunts would be "the rest of the year."

No matter the penalty, Dupuis said referees must either witness the incident or it must be reported 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 AHMLG president Vincent Britt-Guy. That 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 action reportedly taken against team

Dupuis said he notified the presidents of the local hockey associations involved each time he received a complaint of an incident involving Godwin.

"It's not normal what happened," said Pierre Montreuil, president of Hockey Outaouais.

"Racism is not acceptable and there has been action taken … The association [is] following the team very closely to ensure that everything is fine."

Referee shortage a contributing factor

Proof of such language being used on the ice can be elusive.

Experienced referees for minor hockey have been in short supply across Quebec in recent years and the problem is especially acute in the Outaouais region.

WATCH | Parent says it was difficult to get action taken: 

While low salaries are a contributing factor, many experienced referees leave minor hockey because of the 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 behaviour.

"Will we ever get rid of all of it? I don't know," he said.

Abuse won't drown out pro hockey dreams

Godwin said he will not allow the abuse he has faced on the ice to deter him from his dream of playing professional hockey.

He cites watching veteran NHL-er P. K. 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 younger players.

"It's the sport I love," he said.

"I want to do it for the next generation that's going to come and live the same thing."

Godwin says he will continue playing hockey despite the racism he says he faced this past season. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

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.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.
(CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Behne

Former CBC journalist

Alexander Behne is a former CBC reporter.