Future of university women’s hockey team in hands of arbitrator in New Brunswick

FREDERICTON — There was no agenda to discriminate against women when the University of New Brunswick decided to eliminate its varsity women’s hockey program, a lawyer for the school said Wednesday.

Sylvia Bryson has been fighting to have the women’s hockey team reinstated as a varsity squad since filing a complaint with the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board in 2009, a year after the team was stripped of its funding and downgraded to a competitive sports club.

Bryson, who played for the team, alleges that the decision to relegate the women’s team constitutes discrimination on the basis of their sex.

But in his closing arguments to the board, university lawyer Clarence Bennett said shortening the list of varsity sports was based on how it spent its funds.

“UNB was not motivated in any way by the fact they are women,” he said.

He added that there is no responsibility for the university to mirror its sports and spend exactly the same on men’s and women’s teams.

Bryson said while the women’s hockey team never received the level of resources given to the men’s team, the university compared their outcomes, such as win-loss records, when the decision was made to cut funding from the women’s squad.

“It was death by a thousand cuts,” she said after the hearing.

Lawyer Matthew Letson of the Human Rights Commission said the women were treated differently than the men’s team because of a discrepancy of funding and the ability to access equipment, such as a skate sharpener.

During the hearing, lawyers for the university said the men’s team generated some of its own funding through ticket sales and very few people attended the women’s games.

“The popularity of the team was undercut by a lack of funding,” argued Letson in support of Bryson.

Bryson said she’s aware the university has to evaluate how it spends money on all programs.

“Everybody is justified in evaluating programs but it is absolutely essential that they be done fairly and justly,” said Bryson, who has one year of eligibility remaining and wants to try out for the team again.

Bennett said the university does not have an obligation to provide particular sports, adding that the school doesn’t have a rugby team for men.

“If a male student wanted to play rugby and complained to the (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) we’d be looking at this differently. A woman can invoke the Human Rights Act,” Bennett said.

“There was no agenda to discriminate against women.”

But Letson said arbitrator Robert Breen must view the case as a question of equal treatment of gender.

Breen did not set a date for his decision, but said it will take some time.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press