An internal battle over female hockey fees has escalated dramatically

Chilliwack Minor Hockey faced with BC Human Rights Tribunal headache

A controversy over female hockey fees has two parents taking a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

Chilliwack’s Minor Hockey Association has a big problem on its hands.

An internal battle over female hockey fees has escalated dramatically, with two local parents registering a formal complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

That complaint has been accepted and a letter has been mailed to CMHA demanding a response. The ball is now rolling on a process that threatens to put CMHA on the map, not for hockey excellence but for gender discrimination.

Julia Lakey and Karen Esau launched the HRT complaint on behalf of their hockey playing daughters. At the heart of the matter is CMHA’s decision to charge higher fees to females who choose to play on female-only teams.

“We’re paying the $660 everyone else pays plus an extra $183,” Lakey said in a Tuesday talk with the Progress. “It doesn’t matter what excuses they come up with. You cannot charge girls more than boys.”

CMHA’s position is that higher fees are necessary to offset the higher costs of running the female program. With fewer players to draw from, each female team has between 10 and 12 skaters.

Most of the male teams have between 16 and 18 skaters.

If 12 females pay $660 in registration fees at the start of the season, they will contribute $7,290 to the CMHA coffers.

If 18 males pay $660 in registration fees at the start of the season, they will contribute $11,880.

Even adding the extra $183 per skater on the female side only generates another $2,196, leaving the female team’s revenue at $9,486.

If ice fees are equal for both teams (ice time costs can vary based on time slots), then CMHA’s case is clear from a pure business standpoint.

But Lakey said it’s got to be more about common sense than dollars and cents.

“Hockey’s expensive as it is, and adding that extra cost is only discouraging girls from joining,” Lakey said. “I have a 17-year-old son who plays hockey too, and all the parents on his team agree it doesn’t make any sense. Players within the same association shouldn’t be charged more.”

CMHA says females who don’t want to pay the higher fee have the option of playing on a boys team.

“Sure, they don’t pay the extra fee, but where’s the comfort level in that?” Lakey questioned. “The one girl on my son’s team goes into her own change room, which isn’t very nice, and otherwise gets to spend a small amount of time before and after games bonding with her team. Beyond that, boys are often more aggressive, and the game isn’t enjoyable.”

Lakey and her co-complainant, Karen Esau, have what they believe is a ridiculously simple solution — charge an equal fee to everyone.

“Obviously rep players pay more because they get more, prime ice time and things like that,” Lakey said. “But at the house level, there’s no reason all atom-aged, and peewee-aged and bantam-aged players shouldn’t pay X amount across the board.”

Lakey said she and Esau opted for the Human Rights Tribunal route when it became obvious CMHA wasn’t going to alter its policy.

CMHA did survey its members in December/January, presenting the entire membership with a choice between higher female fees and equal fees for all.

“In regards to the proposed new policy regarding smaller teams (less than 16 players), which will directly affect the female divisions, which proposal do you support?” the survey asked.

Option 1 – Only the smaller teams (such as female divisions) will pay the additional cost on a per team basis.

Option 2 – All registrants will pay for and share the additional cost of the smaller teams (such as the female division).

CMHA hasn’t released the results of that survey.

“They won’t divulge the results of it other than to say it was pretty even,” Lakey noted. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, and I’ve only heard one person say, ‘Why should I pay more if I don’t have girls?’”

The HRT process will result in a resolution of some sort. The question is, will it be achieved the easy way or the hard way?

BC Human Rights Tribunal spokesperson Steve Adamson offered to explain the HRT processes while also declining to confirm or deny the existence of a complaint from Lakey and Esau.

The easy way would seem to have the two sides sitting down to hammer out a mediated settlement.

“We offer a process where one of our members or a contractor will help sort things out without a hearing,” Adamson said.

If CMHA has no interest in a settlement, they can apply for an application to dismiss.

“It can be approached in a whole variety of ways, but it all comes down to the other side having no case,” Adamson said.

CMHA’s odds of success would seem low.

Adamson said one third of the complaints HRT sees are rejected in the screening process.

Lakey and Esau’s complaint has already cleared that hurdle.

“If all else fails, the two parties move on to the hearing stage, which can take anywhere from one to five days depending on the nature of the complaint, how many witnesses there are and how complicated the evidence is,” Adamson said. “It’s a courtroom-like setting with one of our appointed tribunal members making the final decision. And ultimately, any orders made are enforceable in the BC Supreme Court.”

Lakey does not want to see the complaint get to the hearing stage, although she and Esau said they’ll be prepared if it does.

“If they opt for a settlement hearing, that would be better,” she said. “If it goes to a hearing, we’ll do our research. And we’re looking into representation right now, because there’s that saying that anyone who attempts to represent himself in a court of law has a fool for a client.”

If the HRT process goes the distance, it will be a long distance. Adamson said they’re booking hearings into 2013. Lakey said the wait will be worth it if they get what they want.

“It’s not even for us right now, but for the future and a systemic resolution that makes it fair for everyone,” she said.

CMHA president David Soltys was contacted for this story, and had this to say.

“CMHA received the details of the complaint on Tuesday July 10, 2012. The board of directors will meet within the next thirty days to review the details of the complaint and decide on the best course of action,” he said. “We will release a statement after we have had the opportunity to meet but until then we will not be making any public comments on the issue.”

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