Amar Gill and John Craighead have a number of things in common.
For one, they are the co-owners of the Surrey Knights, a junior hockey team in B.C.
Gill and Craighead are also the only nonwhite owners of a team in the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL).
Gill is South Asian, and Craighead is African American.
The two believe that because of their race, colour, and ancestry they have faced discrimination by the PJHL and its president, Ray Stonehouse.
They filed separate complaints before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, seeking a number of remedies, including a declaration that they were discriminated against and compensation.
Two weeks before filing the human rights complaints, Amar and Craighead filed a petition against the PJHL under the Societies Act before the B.C. Supreme Court, which asked for other remedies.
The PJHL and Stonehouse sought a deferral of the complaints before the tribunal, arguing that the proceedings before the B.C. Supreme Court could deal with the issues relevant to the human rights complaint.
Tribunal member Catherine McCreary denied the requested deferral, noting in her decision that the two proceedings are different in nature.
McCreary’s ruling dated April 18, 2018 also summarized submissions by the parties about what had happened.
“Mr. Craighead says that, from the first time that he became involved with the PJHL, he has experienced racial discrimination from fans and opposing teams, which the PJHL made no effort to prevent,” McCreary wrote.
According to Craighead, the “discrimination was taken to another level when he and Mr. Gill became owners of a PJHL franchise”.
“He says that the PJHL, through Mr. Stonehouse, made it very clear that he did not want ‘their kind’ in the PJHL, both by saying so expressly, and by treating them differently – and more unfavourably – than other owners (and, in the case of Mr. Craighead, other coaches),” McCreary noted.
Things allegedly became worse following a confrontation between Craighead and the coaches of the Mission City Outlaws during a game in 2015. At that time, the Surrey Knights team was still its predecessor team, the Langley Knights.
Craighead, who went over to the Outlaws’ bench, acknowledged he was at fault.
Craighead was suspended indefinitely as head coach. The suspension was later reduced to allowing him to return to coaching this September.
In June 2017, charges under the PHHL bylaws were brought against the Surrey Knights, which could mean the team may lose its franchise.
“After the Bench Incident, the complainants say that Mr. Stonehouse saw this as an opportunity to get rid of Mr. Craighead, and more recently, Mr. Gill, from the PJHL,” McCreary wrote. “This campaign has been led by Mr. Stonehouse on behalf of the PJHL. Mr. Craighead and Mr. Gill allege that Mr. Stonehouse has been in charge of every step in the PJHL’s efforts to remove them from the PJHL.”
“They say that this campaign has been motivated, at least in part, by racial discrimination,” the tribunal member continued. “Because of their race, Mr. Craighead and Mr. Gill do not fit within the predominantly Caucasian membership of the PJHL in the view of Mr. Stonehouse and the leaders within the PJHL.”
“The complainants point to allegedly differential treatment they received as coaches and owners as well as differential treatment among their players compared to others and attribute that to discrimination under the [B.C. Human Rights] Code,” McCreary went on. “They say that this is particularly true with respect to matters that arose in the Bench Incident.”
McCreary's April 18 decision deals only with the request for deferral. She has not made a ruling on the merits of the complaints. The allegations brought forward by Amar and Craighead have not been proven in a hearing.