Representatives with the South Kent Minor Hockey Association are fuming after girls were booted from a locker room at East Kent Memorial Arena in Ridgetown, to make way for a AAA boys hockey team. Meanwhile, officials with the Municipality of Chatham-Kent say they are addressing the issue.

South Kent Minor Hockey Association is upset

Shawn Allen, president of the South Kent Minor Hockey Association, penned a letter expressing his concern with the issue, which was published on their website on Sunday.

“As we are sure you are aware, the East Kent Memorial Arena (Ridgetown) had a girl’s dressing room, which was comparable to the boy’s dressing rooms, complete with benches, hooks, washroom, and shower,” Allen said in the letter.

“It was located in the same area as the other dressing rooms, which is in a safe and secluded area which is meant for players, coaches and officials. Members of the public, as a general rule, do not enter this area. It accommodated up to 10 girls and their equipment. There was only one such dressing room, which created some difficulties when both teams had female players or back-to-back time slots had female players. While not ideal, with the cooperation of the teams and the female players, it was adequate. However, that room was leased to a Chatham Cyclones AAA Hockey Team. As a result, there is no longer a proper dressing room for female players.”

Allen says at first, in order to address the issue, Chatham-Kent Facility Services created a room in the front stairwell, which opens directly off the lobby.

“This space was approximately six feet by eight feet,” Allen says.

“It did not include either a washroom or shower. It included four chairs; and accommodated three girls at a time. When the door was opened to allow another girl to enter, half the room was visible to members of the public in the lobby, and notably by men leaving the men’s room which is located approximately 10 feet away.”

Allen says as a result of public pressure relating to the “inadequacy and inappropriateness” of the room, Chatham-Kent Facility Services converted the handicapped washroom to a girl’s dressing room.

“This room is also visible to members of the public when they are watching games,” Allen says.

“This room does contain a washroom, but still does not contain a shower; and still only accommodates three girls. It is also located on the opposite side of the arena, so the female players are significantly separated from their teams, requiring them to walk through the lobby among the public to join their teammates and participate in team activities. Additionally, the women’s public washroom no longer has a door, in order to accommodate wheelchair access.”

Allen says it is the position of the South Kent Minor Hockey Association that the room currently used by female players is “neither adequate nor appropriate.

“It is also extremely inequitable. In fact, complaints and concerns have been received by the South Kent Minor Hockey Board from players, parents, and coaches regarding the girl’s dressing room,” Allen says.

Allen says pursuant to the Ontario Hockey Federation, South Kent Minor Hockey is required to ensure all dressing room spaces and procedures are safe, inclusive, and equitable by anticipating and removing all barriers to participation.

Also, Allen says the Municipality of Chatham-Kent and South Kent Minor Hockey are bound by the Human Rights Code. Section 1 of the Code, which states: “Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

“The Ontario Hockey Federation gives consideration to limitations of facilities, where there are limited dressing rooms,” Allen says.

“The Human Rights Commission may give similar consideration. However, in the current situation, the issue is not with the facility, but rather the actions of the Municipality. By leasing the girl’s dressing room to a Chatham Cyclones AAA Hockey Team, the Municipality has created the situation where the female players are treated inequitably. Their efforts to create a substitute dressing room have exacerbated the situation by creating additional inequities.”

Allen says the South Kent Minor Hockey Board is requesting that Chatham-Kent reinstate access to the original girl’s dressing room for use by parties who rent the ice at the East Kent Memorial Arena.

“In order to restore safety, security, dignity and equality to female players,” Allen says.

Municipality addressing the issue, shocked by letter

Darren Goyette, the recreation facilities supervisor for the Ridgetown Arena, told the Sydenham Current he was shocked by the letter published by the South Kent Minor Hockey Association.

“When the letter came out it was a little of a shocker and a disheartening thing for us because we had been in conversation with them and we thought we were working towards something, but it’s out now. We had told them back in mid-November that we were going to construct a new change room for them. So, that’s going to come to reality very shortly. It’s an issue we’re aware of and we’ve been working with South Ken Minor Hockey for some time on trying to resolve this and we have proposed a solution to them a while ago.”

Goyette says they are planning to convert the former skate sharpening room at the arena into a new girls change room.

He says the cost will be between $5,000 and $10,000 and will need approval from Chatham-Kent council.

“We now have approval to go ahead with constructing a new change room for them,” he said.

“That will happen very early in the new year. We contacted contractors already, they are ready to start work the week of January 2 or possibly the 8th.”

In regards to the South Kent Minor Hockey Association’s concerns with safety for the girl, Goyette says these concerns have been addressed right from day one.

“With the room that we had them in, we put up a privacy barrier outside of the room, so that people couldn’t see in there,” he said.

“There was a lock on the inside of the room, so that if a girl was in there by herself and she didn’t feel comfortable, she could lock the door. We had a lot of those measures in place and every time they brought up a concern, we addressed it the best way that we could.”

Goyette says scheduled work to the change rooms was delayed earlier this year.

“Back in the summer, we had contracted with somebody to have this room done by September 17, because our ice in date was September 19,” he said.

“So we wanted this room completed before the ice was in. Materials that we ordered for this room were back ordered and it was one of those things, it was a week-to-week, they’d say still on back order, still on back order. We finally got the parts and materials towards the end of October and by that time our contractor has of course taken other jobs. He tried to squeeze us in, do a little bit here, little bit there and get it done as quickly as he could…. but at the end of the day, instead of September 17, it was probably about November 17 when we got the room done.”

Goyette added: “So you’re looking at about two months late. That is what was causing all this angst. People were losing their patience because we kept saying it’s getting done, it’s getting done, but they weren’t seeing a lot happening. It wasn’t for lack of trying, it was just simply that we weren’t getting the materials in that we needed.”

Goyette said he couldn’t address any issues or concerns about inequality.

“We’ve done what we can for them,” he said.

“Whenever we’ve had issues come up. The room they’re in it has a toilet and washroom, benches and hooks. We’ve offered out vacant change rooms for girls if they want to use the shower facilities.”

Reports say the Chatham-Kent Cyclones were told the arena could accommodate both hockey leagues

The Cyclones renovated the dressing room at their own expense after leasing the space, published reports indicate.

Watch for more on this story.