Q&A: Sylvia (Bryson) Dooley, former UNB women’s hockey player, human rights complaintant

By Nathan DeLong

Sylvia (Bryson) Dooley played defense for the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds women’s hockey squad for four seasons before it was downgraded to a competitive club team in 2008.

Sylvia (Bryson) Dooley. Photo: LinkedIn
Sylvia (Bryson) Dooley. Photo: LinkedIn


She was the team’s assistant captain in 2007-08, her final year as a V-Red. It was also the last year of women’s varsity hockey at UNB.

A native of Havre-Boucher, N.S., Dooley got married and moved to St. John’s, N.L. two years ago. She led the legal battle to have the program reinstated at the varsity level. That fight lasted close to a decade.

Earlier this month, the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board ordered UNB to restore the program’s varsity status by the 2017-18 season and rewrite its gender equity policies. To date, the university hasn’t said if it will appeal the ruling, nor has it said how the decision could impact funding for other varsity sports teams.

Dooley recently reflected on her experience playing varsity women’s hockey and fighting to bring it back to UNB.

ND: What was the experience of playing varsity hockey for UNB like?

SD: “It was fantastic. It was probably the most significant part of my university experience. Just the ability to continue playing after high school was really special and important and something I worked extremely hard for. It was so important for me to be able to represent UNB. I was proud of UNB to that point, and it was a fantastic time. I had great relationships and friendships.”

ND: How did it feel to hear the program was being downgraded?

SD: “It was devastating. We were chasing the idea that, if we could somehow be successful, the quality would come after that. We were making some big gains in terms of our ability to recruit and provide scholarships. It was devastating that the university totally blindsided us.”

ND: What made you want to fight to have the team reinstated as a varsity program?

SD: “I was important for gathering the evidence we used to support our claims. At the end of the year, a lot of girls weren’t around. A lot of them were at UNB to play hockey, and when hockey was cut, they decided to go to a university closer to home where it was less expensive or to go to university somewhere else where they could play hockey. So it was important that I was willing to put in the time and have the patience to see it through.”

ND: What was it like to be involved in the fight?

SD: “It was a test of patience. You look around and see how long that takes – a lot of people just aren’t interested or don’t have the means to take that on and see it through. For example, when the university made a motion to dismiss shortly after the hearings started, they said it was a moot point because I was no longer at the university and wasn’t a full-time student anymore, so I was ineligible to play, therefore it was moot. Fortunately, that motion was dismissed, and the hearing continued. The problem is, if you have a group like the university who has the means to drag it out as long as possible, for an individual or group who is being discriminated against, that’s a long time to commit.”

ND: How did it feel to hear the ruling ordering the team’s reinstatement?

“It was surreal, but it was validating. I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me why hockey is a human right, and maybe it’s not, but the problem is I should have the same opportunities as any other person at the university regardless of gender, and that’s what it was about. A lot of people make comparisons to the men’s hockey team, and they have been extraordinarily successful, and they deserve it. What one needs to consider is the opportunities they’ve had or been given, and the help they’ve gotten along the way.”

ND: UNB has fought this quite hard. Are you prepared to possibly see it take any longer?

SD: “It’s been eight years. I’ve given my testimony and evidence, and I’m willing to continue seeing this through. If it’s a matter of will, I have strong will, and I’ll see it through to the end.”

ND: I understand you have another year of eligibility, but I also realize how it might be tricky to return to playing hockey at this stage of your life. Do you see yourself making a comeback?

SD: “It’s yet to be determined. The biggest thing is waiting to see if and when there’s a team on the ice again, then evaluating where my life is and what condition I would be in to play. I mean condition in terms of whether I’m still physically able to play at that level. That remains to be seen too, but it’s also a testament to how the sport is improving. Yes, one might argue I’m getting older, but the girls who are playing are doing so at a higher calibre, which is excellent for the sport.”