UNB seeks review of discrimination ruling in women's hockey complaint

UNB was told it must reinstate its women's varsity hockey team, but the university might not have the funds

FREDERICTON – The University of New Brunswick is seeking a judicial review of a Labour and Employment Board ruling in March that ordered UNB to reinstate its women’s varsity hockey team.

That ruling also found that the university discriminated on the basis of sex when it downgraded the team to a sports club in 2008.

Wayne Albert, the dean of kinesiology at UNB, says the university made application Thursday to the Court of Queen’s Bench in Fredericton, seeking to have the ruling reviewed.

He said the university disagrees with various parts of the ruling.

“The reclassification of the women’s team being discrimination on the basis of gender is something we feel was a systemic remedy to an individual complaint,” Albert said.

He said the ruling has implications for the long-term financial stability of the university.

“Universities across Atlantic Canada are wrestling with funds and operational dollars because of government restraint and enrolment issues,” he said. “You saw STU, just a couple of weeks ago, announcing that they are cutting their men’s team due to financial constraints. It is a real concern.”

He said reinstating a varsity women’s hockey team would create a gender imbalance favouring women’s teams.

Albert said if left unchallenged, the ruling could set a precedent for similar complaints.

Sylvia Dooley, formerly Bryson, played on the varsity team, and alleged that the decision to relegate the women’s team constituted discrimination on the basis of their sex.

She was not immediately available for comment.

During the hearing before the board, the university argued that shortening the list of varsity sports was based on how it spent its funds and said it did not have an obligation to provide particular sports, adding that the school doesn’t have a rugby team for men.

But in his decision, board chairman Robert Breen agreed with Bryson.

“The Board is satisfied that: (i) the Complainant was a member of a group with a personal characteristic protected from discrimination under the Code; (ii) the Complainant Bryson has shown that she experienced adverse impacts with respect to UNB Varsity Athletics service available to the eligible UNB student public; and (iii) her protected characteristic of sex was a factor in these adverse impacts,” he wrote.

Albert said the judicial review is the first step before a possible appeal.

“The hope is to be heard over the summer and hope for a timely review of it, but that’s in the court’s control,” he said.

Albert said that while the judicial review goes forward, UNB will establish a task force to study the implications of reinstating a women’s varsity hockey team in time for the 2017-18 season.

UNB still has a women’s hockey team, but it is a sports club that is self-funded, and competes in the Eastern Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

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