Ontario man files human rights complaint over sports logos


[Compilation courtesy: Anishinabek News]

An Ontario father of three is the latest Canadian to join in on the loud and boisterous debate over racially offensive sports team names and logos.

Brad Gallant, a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq band, recently filed a human rights complaint against the City of Mississauga for its support of minor hockey teams that feature native mascots.

Among those he singled out are the Mississauga Braves, the Mississauga Chiefs, the Lorne Park Ojibwa, the Meadowvale Mohawks and the Mississauga Reps. All five teams, including the Reps, feature logos with caricature indigenous men or symbols.

“My kids and your kids should be able to go to school, play sports, watch TV and go online without encountering corporate-sponsored institutional racism,” Gallant told Yahoo Canada News.

The debate over offensive sports team mascots is not new. Since the 1960s indigenous activists in the United States and Canada have protested sports franchises, including the Edmonton Eskimos, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins and the Chicago Blackhawks. While public pressure was successful at convincing some university and high school sports teams to change their names, few professional teams have tackled the controversy head on.

For his part, Gallant has asked in his complaint that the City of Mississauga stop sponsoring, promoting and subsidizing teams with offensive names and logos.

“The government shouldn’t be involved in organizations that promote discrimination against citizens,” he stressed.

Gallant maintained that he is not trying to limit anyone’s freedom of expression, but he does question how it’s appropriate for a team called the Redskins to take the ice at a Hockey Canada event when using the term “redskin” against another player is grounds for a six-week suspension.

“You can’t issue a slur on the ice but you can put it on your jersey,” he explained with incredulity.

His complaint has recently received support from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, after it intervened on his behalf in his case with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

In a notice of commission intervention filed in December, the commission stated that “the impugned team names, logos and spectator conduct constitute discrimination with respect to the provision of services. They constitute discrimination against the Applicant on the basis of his Indigenous ancestry.”

No one from the Ontario Human Rights Commission was available for comment when contacted.

Gallant, who is not seeking any financial return from his complaint, said he thinks there is a moral vacuum on the issue of racism towards indigenous people.

“When you create and develop a culture of racism you not only affect the children who are being discriminated against — the native kids like mine — you’re also promoting racism among the kids that are not native.”

Banned in schools?

“A child who is indigenous should not be confronted in a publically-funded school with a logo that is a mockery of their heritage. It’s the height of audacity,” Chris D’Souza, founder of the Equity Summit Group, told Yahoo Canada News.

Earlier this week the Equity Summit Group, an organization representing 26 school board equity officers from across Ontario, presented Education Minister Liz Sandals with a letter asking that schools respect their own inclusivity policies and ban clothing with offensive team names and designs. Of particular concern were the Washington Redskins and Chicago Blackhawks logos.

“The use of pejorative indigenous names, logos and mascots is both an exploitation of indigenous cultural, spiritual and intellectual identity, and in many cases, a racist misrepresentation of that identity,” wrote the group.

D’Souza is not sure how far the request will go, and said he was disappointed by the anemic response from the education minister.

When contacted, a representative from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) said Gallant’s application had not yet been scheduled for a hearing and that it does not comment on cases.

However, Graham Walsh, a lawyer for the City of Mississauga, said in a statement that the city is taking the complaint very seriously.

“The City’s Recreation Division tries to be as inclusive as possible when promoting youth sports programs and supporting local hockey teams by granting them preferred access to our facilities,” he wrote.

“With respect to the selection of team names, mascots, and logos, the City is not involved in any way in this process. It is our hope that the HRTO will be able to bring all sides of this matter together to find a solution that is beneficial to all while maintaining the valuable service that these teams provide to the people of Mississauga.”

For Gallant, the only solution is for Mississauga to stop supporting the offending teams. He knows that he may become a target — he was called out this past weekend in a controversial and much-maligned column in the Toronto Star — but he’s willing to take on that risk.

“I’m not trying to vilify anyone because they’ve been educated incorrectly,” he explained. “This is part of our culture that has to change, so I don’t fault them. They were taught that this is OK. But, if you tell them and they refuse to listen, it’s not OK.”

“You can’t think of us as mascots anymore.”