HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia minor league hockey player who was the target of alleged racist abuse at a tournament in Charlottetown last month said Thursday he has been heartened by an outpouring of support that included a handwritten letter from Prince Edward Island's premier.
Mark Connors, a 16-year-old goalie for the Halifax Hawks U18 AA team who is Black, says racist slurs were directed at him by a group of teenagers in the stands during a game in the P.E.I. capital and again at the hotel where teams were staying. He said he was repeatedly called the N-word and at the hotel he was told hockey was a white man's sport.
He said in an interview that he was upset by what happened to him and he's still struggling with it.
"I feel a little bit sad because I was just there to play hockey," he said, "I wasn't expecting all of this to happen, with all those racial slurs being said towards me." But since the incident he's been happy to receive support from across the country and beyond.
New Jersey Devils defenceman P.K. Subban wrote on Twitter Thursday, "When does it stop? Believe it or not these stories are sent to me everyday. This is happening everyday in our game." He added: "Hang in there Mark! We got you."
Connors' father, Wayne Connors, said in an interview Thursday that after he wrote to inform P.E.I. Premier Dennis King of the incident, the premier sent his son a letter of apology.
"I am sickened and sincerely disappointed to hear the treatment and verbal, racial assault you were victimized with during your hockey weekend in Prince Edward Island," reads King's Nov. 24 letter, a copy of which was shared with The Canadian Press.
King said the "vast majority" of Islanders are known for their friendship and hospitality. "But we also have to fully admit that we aren't perfect," he wrote, "that we still have much more work to do, that much more education and conversation is needed to rid our society fully from the pain — and stupidity — of racism."
King added that he had spoken to Hockey P.E.I. to request that the matter be fully investigated and those responsible be held accountable. The premier's office did not respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press.
On Wednesday, the Halifax Hawks Minor Hockey Association announced it would be boycotting tournaments in P.E.I. until the allegations were investigated. "It makes me sick to my stomach," association president Spiro Bokolas said in an interview Thursday, adding that racism is not tolerated by the Hawks.
The Hawks have since updated their logo on their social media platforms with Connors’ number, 31, and a message that reads "Hawks Against Racism."
Connors said he has also heard from other hockey associations across the country. "It (feels) great … just knowing that I won't have to go through this alone and knowing that other people are still out there supporting me," he said.
In a statement Wednesday, Hockey P.E.I. said an investigation into the incident was ongoing. "Hockey P.E.I. has a zero-tolerance policy on any act of discrimination or hatred within our game or society as a whole and takes these allegations of maltreatment very seriously," it said.
Connors also faced racism in 2018, when a slur was used against him during a peewee hockey game in Tantallon, N.S. After that, he was invited to meet the province's minister of African Nova Scotian affairs.
Despite the latest racist incident, Connors said he will continue to strap on the pads. "I'm going to continue playing hockey because it's one of the sports I love," he said. "They're not going to put me down."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press