Hockey P.E.I. threatens suspensions for online harassment

Hockey P.E.I. has issued a warning that any players or teams involved in online harassment will be suspended for the duration of the hockey season after several reports so far this season.

In a letter issued Monday to midget and bantam leagues, Hockey P.E.I. wrote, "there have been an alarming number of reported social media violations" from players, including "serious threats of harm, bullying, inappropriate photos, and general derogatory behaviour."

Executive director Geoff Kowalski said up until now, these incidents have been dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but the organization felt a more serious message was needed.

"We want to make sure our membership knows that we take it seriously," he said. "We want to make sure our membership is protected and in the long term we want to make sure that they know that we are doing something."

Some incidents forwarded to police

When asked about specific incidents, Kowalski said he couldn't comment, but said police have been contacted in some situations.

"There's incidents where we've had to suspend players and issue warnings to entire teams, that sort of thing and you know it's something that we have to react to."

Peter Evans/CBC

Hockey P.E.I. will also be implementing an education campaign on using social media responsibly. Kowalski said the hope is to have something in place for the beginning of next season.

"I'd like to think it's going to be an ongoing thing. I don't think you can solve this problem in a day or one session."

Since the warning was issued, Kowalski said he's only received positive feedback from coaches and parents.

Stopping 'this type of behaviour'

Justin Muttart, president of the Sherwood Parkdale Rural Minor Hockey Association, said his group has dealt with a few incidents of online harassment and he's encouraged to know action is being taken.

"These directives that are coming out are necessary in order to try to curb this type of behaviour online," Muttart said.

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While he said most are respectful on social media, the association has had to deal with a few incidents from its teams and players.

"We don't want to be dealing with these types of incidents," Muttart said. "I strongly believe that, you know, using social media should be an opportunity to celebrate hockey and our achievements, not to disparage player-to-player or teams." 

Though a suspension might seem like a harsh penalty to some, Kowalski said doing so is necessary at this point in time.

"It's unfortunate we do have to deal with the negative sometimes," he said.

"But I think it's key that people know we are protecting our members and we want them to enjoy the game and continue to be experiencing that sportsmanship and their passion for it."

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