Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey will enforce zero-tolerance policy over racist taunts
In response to an incident earlier this week, where a black player was taunted during a game, the Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey has decided to implement a series of measures to ensure safety and respectful conduct moving forward.
"We condemn any racist, sexist, or homophobic behaviour or comments towards a player, coach, or official and will not tolerate them," said Jean-Francois Laplante, LNAH Commissioner, in a statement issued Thursday.
"In the wake of these incidents, we have decided, with the support of all team owners on the circuit, to implement a series of measures to ensure better safety for all those who come to our games and inform the public about our expectations and the comments and behaviours that will not be tolerated during our activities,” Laplante said.
From now on, the league says it will issue a reminder about appropriate conduct at the beginning of each game, increase security during matches and expel anyone acting out, and will issue a directive to officials signalling them to stop a game and only resume when the offender leaves the arena.
The league says it is "stepping up its efforts" to improve current conditions and "assist professional hockey plays in better transitiioning from professional sport to a life of responsible citizenship at the end of their careers."
Premier Francois Legault said he was stunned to learn of the racist taunts hurled at a weekend hockey game in St-Jerome.
"It's totally unacceptable what happened," said Legault.
On Saturday racists attending an NAHL hockey game targeted a black hockey player, Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, and his friends and family in the stands.
When Diaby received a penalty, one fan leaned over the glass and insulted Diaby, mocked him by dancing like a gorilla, and showed him a picture of a baboon.
Other bigots in the stands pushed Diaby's father and rubbed their hands on his head, while someone poured beer on Diaby's girlfriend.
His father was told to go back to where he came from, Diaby said. When he learned what was going on, the six foot five inch, 218-pound defenceman decided not to return to the ice.
On Wednesday Legault said officials should have immediately stopped the game and removed the racists from the arena.
"I'm asking people responsible for security but also the population not to tolerate this kind of comments. It's totally unacceptable in 2019 to see people yelling racist sentences about a black hockey player. It's unacceptable and I hope the population in the future would throw out these people saying this kind of thing," said Legault.
Legault's sentiments were echoed by politicians of every party at the National Assembly.
Diaby, a 24-year-old former draft choice of the NHL's Nashville Predators, left the North American Hockey League game during the second period as a result of the verbal abuse from fans of the Petroliers du Nord, a team based in St-Jerome.
He and his family then left the arena because the taunting continued and they did not feel safe. The game continued.
Enrico Ciccone, a Liberal member of the legislature and former NHL player, told reporters he would like police to investigate the incident.
"I was disgusted, I was literally disgusted with what I saw," he said. "Not everybody acts accordingly in society, but when that happens, we have to send a message and go hard on them."
Those making the hateful comments -- or those who put their hands on Diaby's father -- should face criminal charges, the Montreal-area politician said.
"We publish guides on how to act in the arena, but they don't work," lamented the former enforcer. He said bad behaviour has to result in serious consequences. "I was disappointed that nobody in the surroundings -- even a fan -- didn't step in," Ciccone added.
St-Jerome police Const. Chantal Bellemare said no criminal complaint had been filed as of Wednesday. She said anyone wishing to file a complaint about the incident can call police.
The Quebec-based league, which counts six teams, apologized for and denounced the actions of the fans, whom it said make up a tiny part of the fan base. The league has called for better behaviour in the stands with the playoffs around the corner.
League commissioner Jean-Francois Laplante posted a video apologizing to Diaby, .
"Racist, sexist, homophobic comments are completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated, whether it's in everyday life or in our arenas," Laplante said.
Habs denounce racism in hockey
The Montreal Canadiens also called out the situation, saying in a series of tweets that the organization condemns any forms of descrimination in the sport.
- With files from Sidhartha Banerjee of The Canadian Press