Hockey PEI warns of season suspensions for players for online trash talk

CHARLOTTETOWN — The governing body for organized hockey in Prince Edward Island is taking a tough stance on the issue of online harassment.

Hockey PEI has sent a letter to several minor leagues warning that any players who violate the organization's social media policy will be suspended for the rest of the season.

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"We have seen repeated behaviour in violation of the social media policy — threats, derogatory behaviour such as pictures, and that sort of thing," executive director Geoff Kowalski said in an interview.

"We've continuously warned members, and we've warned teams. We want to get a harsher message across that this stuff is not acceptable. Hopefully our members will realize the impact that it has — not only on them as individuals, but also the people around them."

Kowalski would not talk about any specific incidents, and said there have been no issues since the new penalty was announced last week.

He said the online activity has more to do with society than hockey, but it's up to organizers to react to it.

"It's so convenient for kids to communicate with each other now. In the past in hockey, you might see a player on a team every few weeks and you have time to let the feud stay on the ice. Now they're able to message each other the second they're off the ice," he said.

He said Hockey PEI will look to provide some education as a way to help prevent such harassment in the future.

The issue came up for discussion when hockey executives from Atlantic Canada met last week in St. John's, N.L.

Nic Jansen, executive director of Hockey New Brunswick, said incidents in his province are examined on a case-by-case basis, and punishments range from warnings to suspensions.

"Essentially every player ... has access to social media accounts, whether it be Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I'd say the majority of the members are aware of the risks involved and act professionally and use proper judgement, and then there are a few that post things they shouldn't," Jansen said.

"I think the key is educating the membership of the risks involved of posting inappropriate things on social media," he said.

Telus and Hockey Canada have developed a program to promote better behaviour in hockey.

Dubbed "The Code," it includes a pledge for players, coaches, parents and officials to take, and uses the social media hashtag #EndBullying.

—By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.

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