FREDERICTON — The University of New Brunswick is reinstating women's varsity hockey following a 10-year absence and a lengthy battle over human rights.
"I'm very pleased and very proud that it has come this far," said Sylvia Dooley, a former player who pushed for the change. "What they have done is come up with a plan to move forward that they think will be successful."
When the university downgraded the team to a sports club in 2008, citing funding issues, Dooley alleged the decision amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex.
In March of this year, the province's Labour and Employment Board agreed, and it ordered the school to reverse its decision.
At first, the university responded by seeking a judicial review. But the university eventually changed course and appointed a task force to implement the board's decision.
On Monday, UNB vice-president George MacLean said the university will hire a full-time coach, provide resources and equipment, and begin recruiting players to create a competitive varsity team for the 2018-19 season.
"There were decisions made years ago (and) I wasn't involved in those," MacLean said "But looking at the situation now, we felt that ... looking to the future for varsity sport at UNB, this was the right way to do it."
The labour board had originally ordered the university to have a team ready for the 2017-2018 season, but MacLean said they'll need another year to ensure that it's done right.
UNB has also agreed to produce a revised gender equity policy no later than September 2017.
"We've had some consultations with experts in the field who have recommended areas where we might look in order to build equity, to be really forward looking in terms of our equity policy," MacLean said.
Both MacLean and Dooley said they expect that a women's varsity hockey team will help with student recruitment.
"I had a great academic experience at UNB and I'm really pleased that this opportunity will be available to pursue both athletics and academics for female hockey players," Dooley said from St. John's, N.L., where she now lives.
Dooley has a year of playing eligibility, but she said a lot has changed since 2008, and she doesn't know if she would try out for the team again.
However, when the puck drops for the first game in 2018, Dooley said she'll be there to watch.
"I'm very hopeful that the support for me will translate into a lot of support for this team because it is so important for the success of these teams that there is support from the community as well."
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press