Chatham-Kent mayor apologizes for weekend flap that turfed girls from hockey dressing room

By Trevor Terfloth, Chatham Daily News

Shawn Allen, president of the South Kent Minor Hockey Association, is shown with Jan Legue, centre, and her daughter Danielle, 10, at the East Kent Memorial Arena in Ridgetown on Wednesday. (Trevor Terfloth/The Daily News)

Shawn Allen, president of the South Kent Minor Hockey Association, is shown with Jan Legue, centre, and her daughter Danielle, 10, at the East Kent Memorial Arena in Ridgetown on Wednesday. (Trevor Terfloth/The Daily News)


Chatham-Kent's mayor apologized Wednesday for the weekend flap that saw girls turfed from their hockey dressing room to make way for a boys' AAA team.

But now it appears the problem is being fixed, with a new room expected to be finished in early January.

Members of the local hockey community expressed disappointment after girls playing in the South Kent Minor Hockey Association were bumped to an accessible washroom at the East Kent Memorial Arena in Ridgetown.

Mayor Randy Hope, who has a granddaughter in hockey, called it a situation that never should have happened.

“I do sincerely apologize,” he told The Daily News Wednesday. “I have granddaughters too and daughters."

In a media release issued late Wednesday afternoon, the municipality promised a new dressing room would be constructed in the same location as the other dressing rooms with similar amenities.

“This new room will accommodate up to eight female players participating on a co-ed team, and meets the Ontario Recreation Facilities Association recommendations for proper square footage,” the municipality stated. “Construction on the new dressing room will be completed by Jan. 8, 2018.

“The Municipality of Chatham-Kent supports and encourages girls’ hockey and believes all players should have safe, accessible and comfortable spaces in municipal arenas. The municipality accommodates co-ed minor hockey teams by providing separate dressing rooms for male and female players according to Hockey Canada and Ontario Hockey Federation dressing room policies.”

Ontario Minor Hockey Association executive director Ian Taylor said in a statement to The Daily News the game must be inclusive in all aspects.

“We support the South Kent Minor Hockey Association to ensure all participants in our game have access to a safe, inclusive, and equitable dressing room spaces,” he said. “The OMHA is committed to providing a safe, respectful, and fully inclusive environment for players, parents/guardians, staff, and volunteers; in which all individuals are treated with respect.”

Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, CEO of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity, was disappointed to hear what happened but appreciated the dialogue that followed.

“I'm glad that it has created such a conversation,” she said, adding that women and girls have had to fight for the opportunity to play hockey over the years.

The South Kent Minor Hockey Association (SKMHA) stated the girls were initially given an approximate six-foot-by-eight-foot room in the front stairwell of the arena before being moved to the converted washroom.

The girls in the SKMHA range from ages 5 to 18. The previous room the girls were changing in was leased to the Chatham-Kent Cyclones.

SKMHA president Shawn Allen posted a letter from the board slamming the decision to move the girls, calling it unfair treatment.

The East Kent Memorial Arena was built in 1954. The municipality stated it received a request from the Chatham-Kent Cyclones to lease a dedicated dressing room in one of the arenas and conduct renovations at their own expense.

“The Cyclones represent the highest level of minor hockey played in Chatham-Kent and include players from across the municipality. Staff determined the East Kent Memorial Arena to be the best location due to available space, ice time, access to highway 401, and other Chatham-Kent communities,”

“In considering this request, it was determined that a storage room plus a dressing room could be merged into one for lease to the Cyclones. The dressing room, which accommodated two to four girls who play on co-ed teams an average of three times per week, could be relocated to an alternative section of the arena. It was hoped that all the renovations would be completed at the same time; however, this timing did not work.”

When teams comprised entirely of female players use the arena, those teams can use the full-size dressing rooms, the municipality stated, adding the Cyclones have been open to sharing their space with teams of either gender during tournaments.

Hope said municipal staff weren't “going out of their way to treat someone wrongly,” noting many factors came into play.

However, he called it crucial to ensure people are treated with respect and equality.

“We need to do more to make the accommodations work in an appropriately timed fashion,” he said.