Hockey leagues for young players in Quebec are facing a critical shortage of referees.
The shortage is felt hardest in the Outaouais, where veteran officials are leaving the community in droves.
"We still recruit a lot of young people every year, [...] but we lose a lot in years of experience," said Mark Loyer, Outaouais regional chief referee.
He estimated that 25 per cent of officials will leave this year, and 85 per cent of those departures will be by referees with 5 to 10 years of experience – sometimes more.
"Since we are losing veterans, we have no choice but to promote young people faster than expected," said Loyer.
Leagues are relying on experienced line judges to supervise the young recruits.
Charles Romain, who has been a referee in the region for about five years, said the often unpleasant and occasionally aggressive behavior of spectators can hurt morale among young people getting their start in the job.
"I see younger people who are starting and that [spectator behaviour] affects a lot. It is the role of the oldest to try to protect them as much as possible," he said.
Salary, taxes also a factor
The salary varies by region and level of play, he adds, and that rate of pay can discourage many from staying in the trade. Referees usually make about $25 a game, according to Romain.
"We're here for two and a half hours, or so. We arrive half an hour before [the match] and we leave half an hour after," he said.
In addition, several referees told Radio-Canada the tax system may turn people away from the job.
Hockey Quebec recently categorized hockey officials as self-employed. This switch means veteran referees who never had to fill out a T4A form when submitting their annual tax return will now have to do so.
It's frustrating enough to convince some people to leave for that reason alone, said Richard Trottier, director of refereeing at the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
In his opinion, the pandemic also plays a role. At some point, he said, the pandemic will be resolved, and the regions will find the number of officials they need.
He says the referee shortage doesn't really affect the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, as it sits atop of the amateur hockey pyramid.
Regardless, several referees said that they continue to practice their profession for the love of hockey.