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City of Victoria accused of discriminating against girls' softball teams

A complaint filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal says the city is depriving players of the opportunity to play softball at a competitive level because it’s failing to provide suitable infrastructure
Pemberton Park on Richardson Street is home to the Beacon Hill Glory softball league. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A human rights complaint against the City of Victoria alleging discrimination against girls’ softball teams will go to a tribunal hearing.

The complaint alleges the city failed to respond to requests to upgrade the field used by softball players with the Beacon Hill Baseball and Softball Association, who are all girls.

In a complaint filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in 2020, Mike Sharpe, a parent of a softball player and former board member of the association, says the city is depriving players of the opportunity to play softball at a competitive level because it’s failing to provide suitable infrastructure.

Sharpe said in a statement that in 2017, the city allocated $157,000 for improvements at Hollywood Park’s baseball field and Pemberton Park’s softball field, but only $2,000 was spent on Pemberton.

The city has denied discriminating and attempted to have the complaint dismissed. It says the association is responsible for deciding which teams play on which fields, and it is therefore the association that has decided that softball teams would play at Pemberton Park.

Prior to 2017, the association scheduled girls’ and boys’ games in both parks, city spokesperson Colleen Mycroft said in a statement.

The city makes decisions about field improvements as part of a larger budgeting process and decisions about the fields in Pemberton and Hollywood parks were not related to what teams play there, Mycroft said.

The association previously operated its softball program at a baseball field in Hollywood Park, but it wanted to move the program because the baseball field has an elevated pitcher’s mound, whereas pitchers stand on flat ground at the same level as home plate in softball.

In 2019, the association submitted requests for an infield made of finely crushed rock and sand and a batting cage in Pemberton Park, but it was told the city did not have the resources to accommodate the project.

At the time, the parks director called Pemberton Park “one of the best maintained and highest quality parks in the entire inventory,” according to the recent tribunal decision to move forward with the complaint.

Both fields have now been updated, Mycroft said.

Tribunal vice-chair Devyn Cousineau dismissed the city’s attempt to throw out the complaint on the basis that if ­Sharpe’s allegations are proven, they could establish discrimination against a protected group.

Sharpe said he’s happy with the tribunal’s decision to move forward, but “not overly surprised as our case is strong and very well documented.”

In an email, Sharpe said while the infield has been updated and is now regulation, there remain disparities between the amenities at Pemberton Park and Hollywood Park. For years, the players have been seeking approval for a permanent batting cage, a concession stand, permanent bleachers, field lighting and netting for the backstop to prevent vehicle damage, he said.

Sharpe said a finding of discrimination by the city would hold the municipal government accountable for its treatment of young female athletes and send a strong signal to other softball coaches and organizers facing similar challenges.

The number of young women registered to play softball at Pemberton has roughly doubled since the infield was upgraded and the program has gained elite coaches, he said, calling those changes “proof of the vitality and opportunities the city’s conduct was suppressing.”

The Beacon Hill Baseball and Softball Association has been running programs for youth in Victoria since 1957 and has about 170 female softball players.