The Toronto Hockey League regrets the “breakdown in communication” with the family of the player who was subjected to racial slurs
The head of the world’s largest youth hockey organization says the league needs to do a much better job of making the league’s racialized players truly feel a part of the Canadian game.
“We’re not perfect. We’re trying to get better every day,” said Scott Oakman, executive director of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. “And we are committed to making our organization a place where every player and every family feels safe.”
Oakman’s comments come after the family of a young player who was a victim of racial abuse on the ice says they were kept in the dark for months about how the league dealt with the incident.
Yonas Nicola-Lalonde, the only black player on his Humber Valley team, claims he was called the N-word by an opposing player last September. The league said they would investigate the incident and after three calls with the investigator in early October, Nicola-Lalonde’s family said they never heard from the league again.
“The league never gave us the conclusion of the investigation and they never emailed us or let us know anything about the investigation,” 16-year-old Yonas Nicola Lalonde told CBC Sports.
“Since then, there has been absolute radio silence,” said Nicola-Lalonde’s father Paul. “The league may have taken steps, but they have not informed us in any way that anything is happening.”
“It has been festering for months,” said his mother Magda. “[Yonas] felt like it was swept under the rug that there was no one behind him.”
Oakman regrets the “breakdown in communications” and said the offending player was eventually suspended. He said the league had informed Nicola-Lalonde’s local organization but acknowledged the league had never contacted the family directly to update them of the findings of the investigation. Oakman added that the GTHL has since changed its policy so players and families affected by such incidents are contacted directly by the league.
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Oakman said the League needs to do a better job of directly informing victims and their families about the process and the results of its investigations into allegations of racial abuse and discrimination.
“Anyone who feels like we don’t care wants to understand what we’re doing to make them feel that way,” Oakman said. “Personally, I would like to speak to their parents and families who think so.”
He said the league is also working hard to eliminate incidents like the one involving Nicola-Lalonde.
“We provide educational facilities so players and families have a better understanding of the behavior that is expected in the arenas,” Oakman said. “It’s one thing to tell a player that they can’t say or do things a certain way, but I think it’s more important that they understand why. It will take some time for his attitude and culture changes.”
The GTHL, which has more than 40,000 registered players, has acknowledged that problems with racism and discrimination persist.
In recent years, she has highlighted her efforts to foster a culture of inclusivity, including forming an independent committee that has spent months examining the league’s culture.
Last March, this committee made 44 recommendations to the League aimed at addressing racism and discrimination. Some of these have been implemented.
Nicola-Lalonde said all of these efforts may sound positive, but they don’t reach players like him who continue to grapple with abuse on the ice and a feeling that nobody is listening.
“They can tell you they’re invested and they take it very seriously, but there’s definitely a big disconnect between what I’ve been told and what I’ve heard and what happened,” he said.
Nicola-Lalonde did his best to move on from what happened. His team is gearing up for the playoffs, and with the support of family, friends, and teammates, he’s excited to get back on the rink.
He regrets how the league handled what happened but has no regrets for pushing for action.
“I got a lot of positive feedback from a lot of people, from a lot of people I haven’t spoken to in a while. And honestly from people I’ve never spoken to before,” he said. “I think people my age saw that it was a problem and reassured me that they supported me, that they had my back.”