CHARLOTTETOWN — The governing body for organized hockey in Prince Edward Island has admitted to mishandling its reaction to a racist act at a hockey game last month.
Hockey P.E.I. issued a statement Wednesday saying the penalty imposed on the offending player — a two-game suspension — was too light, and it repealed the suspension of another player, Keegan Mitchell, who had used social media to criticize officials for their response to the racial slur.
"Hockey P.E.I. believes fundamentally that racism and discrimination of any form have no place in the game, and we acknowledge and express our sincere regret for errors that were made in our handling of the incident," the league said in the statement.
Mitchell has said that during a Junior B game on Dec. 17, a player on the opposing Kensington Vipers directed an anti-Asian comment toward one of Mitchell's teammates with the Sherwood Metros.
Later in the game, Mitchell confronted the offending player and slashed him on the legs, a move that earned Mitchell a two-game suspension — the same penalty imposed on the Vipers player for uttering the slur.
Earlier this month, Mitchell was indefinitely suspended by the league for suggesting online that the Vipers player deserved a stiffer penalty, saying a two-game suspension for a racist slur was "absolutely disgraceful."
"If Hockey P.E.I. took these scenarios as seriously as they say they do, this player would have been suspended appropriately," Mitchell said in a Facebook post on Jan. 5. "This pitiful suspension is making our whole community look racist."
At the time, the league said his comments violated its social media policy.
On Wednesday, Hockey P.E.I. changed course. The league decided the suspension for the Vipers player would be increased to five games, saying the original penalty "was not proportionate" to the offensive act.
The league said it had to acknowledge its "error in judgment," and it issued an apology to the target of the racist comment.
"This incident has made us realize that our inclusivity and anti-harassment guidelines ... do not go far enough to protect those that they should," the league said. "We commend Keegan for speaking up for what was right and shining a spotlight on our missteps around this tragic incident."
Mitchell issued a brief statement Wednesday, saying he was glad he was able to make a difference.
"As I have said before, racism has no place in the game and I will continue to advocate for that," he wrote in a Facebook post, adding that he was eager to return to playing for his team. "I recognize that the fight against racism does not stop here, as there is much more work to be done."
Hockey P.E.I. confirmed that it would conduct a review of what happened.
"Hockey P.E.I. has a zero-tolerance policy for racism, and the comments that were made on Dec. 17 have no place in hockey or our community," the league said in its statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2022.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax
The Canadian Press