12/31/2012 12:19 EST | Updated 03/02/2013 05:12 EST

'A N*gger in Net': Racism at the World Juniors


The annual hockey festival that is the World Junior Hockey Championship has captivated Canadians again this holiday season. While the National Hockey League (NHL) lockout has frustrated hockey-philes, the World Juniors have provided drama and difficulties while Team Canada's discipline has kept it afloat in Ufa, the Russian host city.

Canada has not gone with a single goalie since Carey Price's 2007 MVP-worthy performance. At the time, little if nothing at all was made of his ethnic heritage. The Anahim Lake, B.C.-native, whose mother is the former chief of the Ulkatcho First Nation, was feted wholeheartedly. While we rejoice in Canada's latest win against Team USA, some online commentary has shown some undercurrents of uneasiness surrounding the first black starting goalie Canada's ever had.

Reminiscent of the now-famous scene in Tarantino's epic film Django Unchained where the main character causes a cluster of rubber-necking when seen riding a horse into town, the sight of Team Canada's goalie's skin colour was met with laughter, bemusement, confusion and contempt from Canada and abroad.

Some questioned his place on the roster and on the ice. Sadly, some welcomed Malcolm Subban's presence like a fly in the proverbial pail of milk. Others found clever comparisons to another black man who occupies a position previously exclusive to caucasians. Predictably, members of visible minority communities in Canada, often absent on the ice and in the stands -- who can blame them -- expressed pride in Team Canada's continued steps towards openness and inclusion.

History tells us that Canada's national sport was dead last in racial desegregation. In the late 1930s, after watching the late, great Herb Carnegie play hockey, Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe stated he "would take Carnegie tomorrow for the Maple Leafs if someone could turn him white." In 1948, British-Columbia's Larry "King" Kwong became the first Asian to play in the NHL. Long before Jordan Nolan, Ojibwe from St-Catherines, ON, the first native player in NHL, Saskatchewan-native Fred Sasakamoose, stepped onto the ice in 1954. It was in 1958, over a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the baseball colour line, that Maritimer Willie O'Ree broke the NHL's colour barrier when he laced up his skates for the Bruins.

The long-ignored vestiges of disdain for diversity in hockey have been gaining attention nationwide, in the USA, and across the pond as hockey fans and foes band together to address long-standing pressures that still blight the game.

The banana peel-throwing incident in London, Ontario's 2009 pre-season game forced the hockey world to hold serious discussions about the disparaging perceptions which endure. So did the vitriol directed at the author of a winning goal (a black hockey player) during the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.

Herb Carnegie and brother Ossie's parents emigrated from the Caribbean to Canada in 1912. The Carnegies were re-baptised les Noirs and the Black Aces as they made noise on the ice while racking up several most valuable player trophies. Like the Carnegies 100 years before them, the Subban clan are a proud product of Canadian immigration and Canadian integration.

Never mind the naysayers: the values Canada stands for have seeped into our roster at the World Juniors. Canada will continue to prove to ourselves and the world that our multiculturalism, our diversity and our spirit of inclusion form a hat-trick that cannot be beat. Go Team Canada!