New Brunswick’s commissioner on systemic racism thinks P.E.I. should consider a similar role following recent reports of on-ice racism during Island hockey games.
Manju Varma was appointed to her position in September.
She is looking at systemic racism in New Brunswick and compiling a report to offer recommendations to government on how to dismantle it. But she also hears about incidents of racism in other Atlantic provinces.
At least one Island MLA has been asking for a racism commissioner on P.E.I.
“If I was the government of P.E.I., I would reach out first to New Brunswick,” Varma said. “I would reach out to the experts that are in the province, your multicultural groups, your academics that work in this area, people who work in immigration, and build from the ground up.”
Varma has heard about a few high-profile incidents of racism involving Island hockey players. She said a role similar to her position could help investigate these incidents.
“A commissioner in a province could have different roles. For example, for me, I’m right now collecting information that is my role.
“If we think about the roles of other commissioners … they take complaints and then they investigate those complaints. So a commissioner on systemic racism could sort of do the role that I’m doing, or they could do a role where they are actually sort of the clearinghouse, or the go-to for complaints. And then they investigate.”
To me it sends the message, that if you do something wrong and you’re caught you should apologize, and if you stand up and try to be an ally you are going to get punished.– Manju Varma
A player was suspended indefinitely by Hockey P.E.I. recently for a social media post criticizing the two-game suspension of a player who made an anti-Asian comment.
Varma said the punishment on the player speaking out sends the wrong message considering the punishment for the person who made the comments was much lighter.
“To me it sends the message, that if you do something wrong and you’re caught you should apologize, and if you stand up and try to be an ally you are going to get punished,” she said.
“That says something about your priorities. When something is done to make the organization look bad, which this definitely does, then they are quick to act. When something is done to hurt one of their players it doesn’t seem like they are as quick on the ball.”
Hockey P.E.I. executive director Connor Cameron said earlier this week that the player who made the anti-Asian comment was remorseful for his “mistake.”
However, downplaying racist incidents as mistakes is a mistake in itself, said Varma.
“A mistake is something you do by accident or something you do when you don’t know,” she said. “I find it hard to believe in this day and age and with the age of these hockey players that they didn’t know a racial slur is inappropriate or hateful.”
Calling an act of racism a mistake is an example of systemic racism, she added.
There was another incident involving Mark Connors, a young Black hockey player from Nova Scotia, who was on the receiving end of racism during a tournament on P.E.I. in November.
Hockey P.E.I. is still waiting for a third-party report before a decision is made in that case, but said it is expected later this month.
Varma said having an independent party look into these issues is a good place to start, but still believes the organization could be doing more.
“It should be a wake-up call to say, ‘We need something in place.’ This is not the first organization to have issues like this. But, if you don’t already have an anti-racist policy in place, this is your wake-up call.”
Hockey P.E.I. has rules around harassment and bullying in its code of conduct that include attacking people based on race, but Varma thinks the organization could strengthen itself by adding polices which are specifically anti-racist.