French Canadian officials favor French Canadian players according to a new study from Brock University’s Kevin Mongeon.

Kevin Mongeon looked at penalty calls over a span of three seasons, separating the data by ethnicity of official (French or English) and player (French, English, or European).  After adjusting for score effects, Mongeon concluded that French Canadian referees tend to call more penalties on English-speaking players than French Canadian players. 

Mongeon recently spoke with CBC’s Lisa Lago about the report.

From the paper’s abstract:

Motivated by an endogenity issue between score margin and penalty events, this paper tests for ethnicity discrimination among NHL referees by analyzing over 2.6 million player shifts. Using duration models to compare the penalty rates of various player–referee ethnicity combinations, we find that French Canadian referees call penalties at significantly faster rates on English Canadian players than do English Canadian referees. The results are broadly consistent with the prior discrimination literature and are intuitively reasonable within the context of the historic French–English tensions throughout Canada’s history.

Dr. David Mongeon of Brock University

Dr. David Mongeon (Photo: Brock University)

Neil Longley, who co-wrote the paper, hypothesized that historical French-English tensions are reflected within the NHL.

This isn’t the first time a possible French bias has hit the media.  Ron MacLean brought it up on national television a few years back, only to later apologize for his remarks.  Even Predators coach Peter Laviolette made headlines after saying that calls against his club were “Montreal Typical.”

Mongeon is looking to raise awareness of potential bias to help eliminate it within the game, as he said was done within Major League Baseball.

 We’ve reached out to Mongeon for more comment and to review the study. 

UPDATE: The full study is available here, shared with approval from the Copyright Clearance Center.  It’s not exactly light reading, but it is quite interesting.  They also look at some other causes of the disparity, including a difference in style of play. From the paper’s conclusion: 

One possibility is that these cultural and social tensions cause French Canadian referees to have unfavorable impressions of English Canadians, and that referees then act (either overtly/intentionally or, perhaps, unintentionally) on these views by calling more penalties on English Canadians. However, an alternate, somewhat more benign, explanation is also possible.

It may be that this increased penalty calling against English Canadians is not due to direct cultural or social biases, but is due to heterogeneity in styles of play across ethnic groups. It is well-known among followers of professional hockey that English players play a relatively more aggressive style than do French, American, and International players. This heterogeneity in styles of play across ethnic groups could potentially be misinterpreted as ethnicity discrimination, where it may simply reflect different judgments as to what constitutes a penalty