Comments on Commenters (Re: Girls Getting Too Much Ice Time in Newfoundland)

By Alvin Ma

[Editor’s Note: This article by Alvin Ma is a response to Courtney Szto’s recent post about a human rights complaint filed by a Newfoundland coach over unequal ice time being given to some girl hockey players. Brent Watkins, the coach who filed the complaint, has contacted me to clarify his arguments and position, and has participated publicly in discussions in the comments section of the original post. In the coming days and weeks we hope to continue this discussion with further posts here on Hockey in Society. Alvin’s post is the first contribution to this ongoing discussion.]

I would like to preface everything I say with the note that I am neither a constitutional law expert nor a distinguished sociological scholar. I merely have my viewpoints as any other Canadian citizen, though I might as well put some of my political science knowledge to use here. Courtney Szto’s “A Violation of Human Rights? Girls Getting Too Much Ice Time in Newfoundland” post inspired me to discuss, or rehash my rants on formal essays and informal blog posts written when I was a political science student at the University of British Columbia about the phenomenon of “popular” online comments that could be deemed politically incorrect in regard to immigration policy, religion, gender  equality, and the court system.

While I do not necessarily agree with the sentiments expressed by these commenters, my politically moderate self does legitimize the “highest rated” comments in the sense that they should be taken into consideration when shaping policies in practical terms. Szto links to the Yahoo publication of the original CBC article, the former of which has a consistent conservative commenter base. While many Yahoo commenters frown upon scandals at the hands of Conservatives, the highest-rated comments generally voice greater displeasure at progressive actions and causes. When I took a gender studies policy course last year, I analyzed the optics of the SlutWalk by comparing the highest-rated comments from the “What to Wear to a SlutWalk” Yahoo article with the highest-rated comments from the more progressive CBC commenter base in the article “Toronto ‘Slut Walk’ Takes to the Streets.” From Yahoo, with 14 thumbs up and 0 thumbs down, is the following comment:

Words of Wisdom from a father of 3 daughters. You never get a second chance for your 1st impression on others and your mode of dress has a lot to do with what people think of you. Rightly or wrongly. Dress like a #$%$ and expect to be treated as one by people who don’t know you, Dress like a thug or gang banger, same result.

And here’s another from another commenter, with 11 thumbs up and 1 thumb down:

Some of these outfits are pretty skimpy and suggestive. Is it possible that it’s actually the men that are being sexually assaulted?

Let’s compare those comments with a couple from CBC commenters. With 493 thumbs up and 160 thumbs down, one commenter writes:

Quite frankly, I think this police officer is on to something. More of this kind of thinking would solve a lot of problems in our society. Think about it. Would your house be burgled if you didn’t insist on keeping your electronics in it? Any homeowner who chooses to have a flat screen tv in their living room is practically inviting a robbery. And how often must we waste valuable police resources investigating things like bank robberies? Banks have a long history of making themselves the targets if criminal activity by irresponsibly keeping large sums of money on their premises. Can you really blame someone for being drawn to such a tempting target? No. It’s about time that banks took some responsibility for attracting so much attention to themselves. It’s like people who carry wallets out in public and then cry victim when they are mugged. Why must we spend our tax dollars protecting people who make themselves the targets of criminal activity by owning valuables?

A separate CBC comment with 52 thumbs up and 20 thumbs down:

It is easy to point out that women who dress slutty will have a higher chance of being raped. Whether that is actually true or not may be debatable, but for argument’s sake, I will assume you are correct. The issue is the comment was made by a police officer, in his capacity as a representative of the entire City of Toronto police force. The comment suggests, (despite what the reality may be) that the position of the Toronto police force is that slutty women have it coming. Imagine, as a Toronto native, you are visiting Montreal and decide to go to a hockey game. Luckily, there is a Habs v. Buds game! You go to the game wearing you’re Maple Leafs jersey, only to be met by some rowdy, slightly drunk, Habs fan, who proceed, to beat the snot out of you. When you report this to the Montreal police, they snicker and say, “well what did you expect?” If this story broke tomorrow, I have a feeling all of Toronto would rally around that victim. But in this case, with rape and slutty clothes, there is more indifference.

To segue back into the issue of hockey and human rights, I’d like to examine the highest-rated comments from the Yahoo article. With 27 thumbs up and 4 thumbs down:

As someone who played a lot of hockey in his life, I fully agree with the coach. I always found it so strange that girls were allowed to play on boys teams, but if a boy wanted to play in an all girl league there would be outrage. There are no women in the NHL, AHL, OHL, etc, etc, etc… There should be a male only league and a female only league.

With 5 thumbs up and 0 thumbs down:

Women need to quit making the stupid argument that men are “afraid” that a girl will be better than a boy. What’s always at issue is the discriminatory advantages provided to a girl to ‘compete’ with a boy for a position. Period. If some girl is clearly better at the job than some guy, she should get it – but not JUST because she’s female! Standards shouldn’t be lowered or altered in order for her to ‘win’ the postion. And she shouldn’t be provided with unfair or additional benefits that a guy doesn’t get, in order for her to ‘win’ the position.
If / when it was the other way around, women railed against it, and rightly so. But 2 wrongs never did, and still don’t, make a right.

The  right-leaning National Post is another prominent news source where “Brent Watkins” is featured. Here are a couple of the highest-rated comments from “Coach Complains Minor Hockey Ice Time Favours Girls Over Boys“:

With 68 thumbs up and 2 thumbs down:

Of course Watkins complaint will be ignored or laughed at by the human rights commission because of which gender rights he is fighting for.

With 54 thumbs up and 3 thumbs down:

If you say equality the results ought to be equal. Affirmative action is the biggest shill and basically s+++s on the definition of equality, to enforce a political agenda.

Now let’s take a look at some of the highest-rated comments from the original CBC news article. With 178 thumbs up and 19 thumbs down:

This story hits close to home for me. I grew up playing in this association and noticed the same thing going on back then. Female players participate in their own league (which now has a full fledged house league and rep teams, same as the boys) but can then compete for roster spots on male teams. My daughter could sign up for the female division, make the U-15 female all-star team, and at the same time earn a spot on the male Bantam all-star team and knock my neighbours son off the team, the only team he can play for. My daughter could take advantage of 6 hours on the ice a week, while the neighbours son can only get on the ice for 3 hours. Why? Because my daughter is female.
Gender equality is a touchy topic at the best of times, and I certainly support equality, however, I do not support the gender supremacy which masquerades as fairness all too often nowadays.

With 91 thumbs up and 45 thumbs down:

I totally agree with this guy. It seems to me that we have tried so hard to have women’s equal rights that we are actually more sexist then ever! We are now in a world where males are being discriminated against on a daily basis. Weather it be the workforce or sports. Woman went from having no rights to having more rights then men. All this BS over gender has to come to an end. The best qualified should get the job, the best players should make the team, etc. Boys aren’t making the team because of men to woman ratio’s, and men who are more qualified to do certain jobs are turned away to take a woman because of the same reasoning. Total BS in my opinion…

Overall, I doubt that Watkins could be successful if a court decision is his final option. The relevant constitutional law that would be challenged is found in Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

15(1) Equality: Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination….
15(2) Equity: [The above] does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups

It would be difficult for Watkins to convince the judge to overrule the Justine Blainey case precedent, as the affirmative “amelioration of conditions” of females exempts Section 15(1) and outweighs the amelioration of conditions of male hockey players with a shorter opportunity of obtaining ice time. However, with the level of populist-driven support, Watkins has seemingly already won the public relations challenge.

While I am not trying to take a deterministically normative position regarding this pending case before the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission, my point is that it is difficult to formulate societal policies without taking into account the prevailing sentiment expressed by commenters originating from differing political stripes. I understand that these commenters do not speak for absolutely everyone, so that’s why I decided to dedicate this entire post to bringing up this issue. Nevertheless, we cannot merely assume in our discourse that everyone accepts the macroscopic political theme of feminist-leaning gender equity, even if the commenter community has progressive tendencies.


6 thoughts on “Comments on Commenters (Re: Girls Getting Too Much Ice Time in Newfoundland)

  1. I love the opportunity to discuss this and wish I could have the same discussions with the SMHA or HNL.

    I’d like to comment on a few things here indicated by the writer:
    Overall, I doubt that Watkins could be successful if a court decision is his final option. The relevant constitutional law that would be challenged is found in Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
    15(1) Equality: Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination….
    15(2) Equity: [The above] does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups
    Actually the legislation we are looking at is the NL Human Rights Act but it still has the same principles as the Charter.

    Everyone agrees that it is discrimination by gender but we have to look at section 8 for special programs. Same principle as Charter.
    Special programs
    8. (1) On the application of a person, the commission may approve programs designed to prevent, reduce or eliminate disadvantages respecting services, facilities, accommodation or employment that may be or are suffered by a group of individuals where those disadvantages would be, or are based on or related to, a prohibited ground of discrimination of members of that group.
    (2) Before or after the commission approves a program, the commission may
    (a) make inquiries concerning the program;
    (b) vary the program;
    (c) impose conditions on the program; or
    (d) withdraw approval of the program
    as it thinks appropriate.
    (3) Nothing done in accordance with a program approved under this section is a violation of this Act.

    Section (3) is the same as section 15(2) of the charter.

    The big thing here is that it is not just good enough to show that females would are a disadvantaged group that would preclude a violation of the Act but only if it was an approved program and for a program to be approved it must meet a few principles. Firstly it must be made with the intention of removing the disadvantages for females and use these least discriminatory means to reach this goal. In this case as well I would argue that the fact that we are going to be discriminating against a very young population we should be extremely caution in what we do so that we don’t actually cause more negative conditions in the future.

    So what are the disadvantages??

    1. Access to ice time
    2. Acess to Resources
    3. Access to equal skill Development opportunities
    4. Access to a game that is especially relevant to females
    5. etcc..

    There are probably many more but I don’t think a goal of a special program would be:

    That females youth be developed more than the young males and if so I would like to challenge that as it doesn’t seem to fit into what we as a society should be trying to do.

    So if this is the case the courts have ruled that:

    Roberts v. Ontario 1994 CanLII 1590 (ON C.A.), (1994), 19 O.R. (3d) 387 (Ont. C.A.).
    Special programs aimed at assisting a disadvantaged individual or group should be designed so that restrictions within that program are rationally connected to the program. Otherwise, the provider of the program will be promoting the very inequality and unfairness it seeks to alleviate
    : Apsit et al. v. Manitoba Human Rights Commission (No. 2), reflex, [1988] 1 W.W.R. 629 (Man. Q.B.); appeal allowed on other grounds reflex, (1988), 55 Man. R. (2d) 263 (Man. C.A.). In order to justify a programme under s. 15(2), there must be a real nexus between the object of the programme as declared by the government and its form and implementation. It is not sufficient to declare that the object of a programme is to help a disadvantaged group if in fact the ameliorative remedy is not directed towards the cause of the disadvantage. There must be a unity or interrelationship amongst the elements in the programme which will prompt the court to conclude that the remedy in its form and implementation is rationally related to the cause of the disadvantage. The dominant purpose of s. 15 is to preserve equality. It follows as a matter of principle that a special law or programme which is put forward under s. 15(2) cannot be justified if it unnecessarily denies the existing rights of the non-target group.
    The same courts declared that it is:
    The onus lies on the proponent of an affirmative action plan to demonstrate that the plan fits within the restriction in s.15(2):
    I would like to add the fact that SMHAS has no approved program does not do what is described above.
    I am not saying that there should not be a program for females and I am certainly not trying to do what is below:

    It would be difficult for Watkins to convince the judge to overrule the Justine Blainey case precedent, as the affirmative “amelioration of conditions” of females exempts Section 15(1) and outweighs the amelioration of conditions of male hockey players with a shorter opportunity of obtaining ice time. However, with the level of populist-driven support, Watkins has seemingly already won the public relations challenge.
    I am truly saying that the Justine Blainey decision is a valid decision and I support it. Also the decision on Pasternak vs MMHA whereby it was decided that females should beable to play on male teams based on skill. The fact that the SMHA provides more skill development for females within their own association is the reason for my complaint when both players have to tryout for the same team is why my complaint has arisen.

    No one says that females haven’t been disadvantaged but you must also look at what happens in different areas and for different individuals. Stephenville is a much different association than others and we provide many opportunities above others.

    So according to law we have to have a rational connection to the goal of the program and we must ensure that we use the least discriminatory means to achieve our goals without causing undue fairness to the other gender.

    So can we achieve our goals without giving increased skill development to the other sex especially when we make them compete against each other for spots on the same team. Is our goal to make sure females are better skilled than males?? If no then why would we use the option that is being used right now? There are many disadvantages so why couldn’t we:
    1. ensure equal access to ice time
    2. develop a female only division
    3. mandate two executive psotions to females
    4. mandate more female coach development
    5. have special female only jamborees to increase interest
    6. etc…

    why do we use the option of more skill development and how does that relate to the goal of the program.?? Is there a less discriminatory option availible that would have less of a negative effect on the other gender??

    I have based my complaint on this and supported by case law

    When “an individual whom a special program is designed to assist is being discriminated against and…there is no rational connection between the prohibited ground of discrimination and the program, [then] the provider of the program must remove the discrimination.

    There is no argument that females are not disadvantaged as supported by many cases….

    I don’t want to continue in this but would like the SMHA to develop an approved program but they seem to not want to follow the NL Human Rights Act, section 8

    I know that this post is not totally about this issue but public opinion I would like to say that I do not support many of the opinions that are expressed about this issue at times in regard equality and the fact that there is no support for the charter 15(2) or even Section 8 of the NL human Rights Act. I support this legislation I just think we have to be careful as members developing policy to ensure we don’t go to far the other way and actually cause more harm than good.

    • In fairness to the writer I think after I clarified a few things the discussion was more about the public support for certain comments and what that means??

      I think I have a lot of support because of who I’m fighting for. It is the kids and applying some of the special program policies to them is a big difference then applying them to adults. The moral question becomes: Is it the same to apply a discriminatory policy against a kid to fix societal problems under a special program as it would be to an adult?

      I think society views the application of these fixes much differently when you try to oppress the opressor and label the child the opressor. That is even hard to say isn’t it??

      • That’s how I read the discussion – as more using this instance to illustrate a larger point about online commenting and public opinion (the impact of new media and Internet communications in hockey are a major focus on this blog). But I’ve asked Alvin to comment here, so he can clarify his arguments. Thanks again for engaging with our writers Brent and for explaining and clarifying your own position.

  2. Thank you for your insightful comments regarding the NL Human Rights Act, Brent.

    Yes, my post mainly focuses on the optics of a case like this one. Many people would generally read the headline and simplify the issue before ranting based on ideological beliefs. In your case, the simplified issue is a seemingly David-vs-Goliath fight to counter reverse discrimination. Of course, it is much more complex and I’m glad that you have plenty of substance and that your case is not a kneejerk reaction to feminist-led affirmative action.

    To briefly post my thoughts on your moral question in terms of public opinion optics, the “it’s for the kids” argument has its advantages in persuasion. Sometimes, however, the rhetoric of “children’s interests” is clichéd (as seen from both sides of a teachers’ labour dispute) and it could be counter-productive. Because it’s an issue that deals with many children in a program over a lengthy period of time rather than an individual adult in imminent crisis, I don’t think it’s high on the NL Human Rights Commission priority list. While the public understands that judges can take a long time to make their decisions, particularly in cases where there is plenty of substance, sometimes the desired result is not favourable.

    In Canada, I trust that judges are impartial, and thus the judicial branch wouldn’t cater to the demands of the public as a legislative branch might. The latter would likely not place your case high on its priority list either unless if it’s on a local scale that understand its difference from other minor hockey associations. Overall, from a community standpoint, it seems like the Stephenville Minor Hockey Association internally is still the easiest to be receptive to public opinion.

    Good luck in your efforts for a amicable resolution for everyone.

    • Yes I understand that public opinion doesn’t play high in the judicial system and really it shouldn’t. My main comment about it being for protection of the kids was just a thought of mine about why there is public support for my position.

  3. Pingback: IIHF’s “Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend”: A Chance to Reflect on Barriers and Opportunities for Women in Hockey Culture | Hockey in Society

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