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Manitoba court asked to decide whether girls have right to play boys hockey

NHL.com @NHL

WINNIPEG - A Manitoba judge has reserved her decision in a case that could determine whether girls have the right to play beside boys on high school hockey teams.

The Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association was in court Thursday to appeal a provincial human rights commission ruling that said twin sisters Amy and Jesse Pasternak faced gender discrimination when they were barred from playing on the boys team at West Kildonan Collegiate in 2005.

It would be "foolish" to end the practice of having separate boys and girls teams, association lawyer Victor Bargen told the court.

"We can't tweak every single area of education, including sports, to accommodate one or two individuals," Bargen said.

Schools offer separate teams for boys and girls to ensure as many students as possible can play, argued Bargen. If everyone could try out for the same teams, males could end up taking most of the spots on female squads.

Sarah Lugtig, lawyer for the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, told the court the issue comes down to a lack of fairness.

"It's segregation. There's no question that is what's going on here," she said. "(The Pasternaks) just wanted to be treated on their own merit."

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Joan McKelvey said she expected to render her decision shortly, although the outcome won't matter to the Pasternaks. The 18-year-olds are now in university and were cut from the high school boys team in Grade 12 after winning the right to try out.

Supporters say the ruling will still be important for younger girls.

"For me, the discrimination was very clear," said Sandi Kirby, a sports sociology professor at the University of Winnipeg and member of the Canadian rowing squad at the 1976 Olympics.

Kirby testified on the girls' behalf at the human rights commission hearing.

"(It's) a very simple issue. Let them play. Let them play," Kirby said outside court.

The high schools athletic association allows girls to play on boys teams only if there is no girls team at their school. West Kildonan Collegiate has a girls hockey team, but the Pasternaks always said the skill level was far below that of the boys squad.

The rules are also different in the girls league. Body checking, for instance, is forbidden.

The association said the Pasternaks could go elsewhere, such as their local community hockey league, to play alongside boys. The group also feels students should not be the ones setting the rules at school.

"The students don't run the school. The teachers, the principal and the superintendent do," Bargen told the judge.

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