MONTREAL — Racist taunts recently directed at a black hockey player were unacceptable and should not be tolerated, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday.
Legault raised the case of Jonathan-Ismael Diaby with reporters, saying he is appalled that hockey fans would hurl insults at a player because he's black. Diaby, a semi-pro hockey player for the Jonquiere Marquis, was subjected to racist taunts during a game in St-Jerome, Que., last Saturday.
"I am calling on hockey leagues, I am calling on other spectators, we have the right to tell someone who is making comments like that, it makes no sense," Legault told reporters in Quebec City. "C'mon! We cannot tolerate that a hockey player is insulted because he is black."
Legault said he would have expected the game to be stopped so those responsible for the slurs could be ejected from the arena.
Security aside, he called on fans to speak out when fellow spectators make racist comments. "They have the right to say as citizens, in 2019, that it's not acceptable," Legault said.
Diaby, a former draft choice of the NHL's Nashville Predators, left the Ligue nord-americaine de hockey game during the second period as a result of the verbal abuse from fans of the Petroliers du Nord, a team based in St-Jerome, about 45 kilometres north of Montreal.
He said he didn't feel his family members, who were at the game and were also taunted, were safe. They all left the arena, and the game continued.
Video of the game on the league's web site shows a fan harassing Diaby, 24, as he entered the penalty box. The fan can be seen making racist gestures and pointing to an image on his cell phone, which Diaby has said was a baboon. A few minutes later, an altercation broke out in the stands where Diaby's friends and family were seated.
His father was told to go back to where he came from, Diaby said. When he learned what was going on, the six foot five inch, 218-pound defenceman decided not to return to the ice.
Enrico Ciccone, a Liberal member of the legislature and former NHL player, told reporters he would like police to investigate the incident. Those making the hateful comments — or those who put their hands on Diaby's father — should face criminal charges, the Montreal-area politician said.
"We publish guides on how to act in the arena, but they don't work," lamented the former enforcer. He said bad behaviour has to result in serious consequences. "I was disappointed that nobody in the surroundings — even a fan — didn't step in," Ciccone added. "I was disgusted with what I saw."
St-Jerome police Const. Chantal Bellemare said no criminal complaint had been filed as of Wednesday. She said anyone wishing to file a complaint about the incident can call police.
The Montreal Canadiens posted a message to Twitter Wednesday saying they "condemn any behaviour that targets any player, coach, official or fan based upon race, creed or sexual orientation." The NHL team said it "mandates the immediate ejection of any person who commits such acts at our venues," adding that "all hockey programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation."
The Quebec-based Ligue nord-americaine de hockey, which counts six teams, apologized for and denounced the actions of the racist fans, whom it said make up a tiny part of the fan base. The league has called for better behaviour in the stands with the playoffs around the corner.
League commissioner Jean-Francois Laplante posted a video apologizing to Diaby, .
"Racist, sexist, homophobic comments are completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated, whether it's in everyday life or in our arenas," Laplante said.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press