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In his recent article, “We’re All Canadians, Mr. Cherry,” Peter Stockland argues that Don Cherry’s use of “you people” in his controversial rant during Hockey Night in Canada, was inappropriate and contrary to Canadian values. As Stockland and many Canadians have agreed, we are a country proudly dependent on immigration, and we are, to use the popular terminology, inclusive. “You people” in the way Cherry expressed himself, transformed a central Canadian value of multiculturalism into one of exclusion.
In wake of Cherry’s firing, which took place about 24 hours after his remarks, some have made strong criticisms. Jess Allen, part of CTV’s The Social put her perspective this way:
“I think it struck a nerve because I’m told he’s a Canadian icon and he’s a symbol of the great sport of hockey which is the sport that unites us across the country. And that narrative is the one that strikes a nerve with me because I don’t worship at the altar of hockey. I never have.”
“There’s a certain type of person in my mind and in my experience who does. And they all tended to be white boys who weren’t, let’s say, weren’t very nice. They were not generally thoughtful. They were often bullies. Their parents were able to afford to put them … you know spend $5,000 a year on minor hockey,” she continued.
“And for me, Don Cherry is the walking and talking representative of that type. And he’s a type of person that … and I know he’s done good things. But at the same time, when someone good is also able to make fun of people who believe in climate science. Who is also able to be like, whether he’s charming or not, but he’s still a bigot and a misogynist. You know to have those two things like, I dismiss those people.”
This led some on Twitter to call for Allen’s firing as well (it didn’t happen). It is clear that Allen sees Cherry representing a type of Canadian who needs to be “dismissed” with such harsh and summary language, as her comments exhibited.
But don’t Allen’s comments underscore the exact same philosophy that was attributed to Cherry? To borrow Peter Stockland’s phrase, we are all Canadians. Allen articulates that there is a specific kind of person in Canada that needs to be treated a specific kind of way – to be dismissed. Other Canadians agree with her. Is this really “inclusive?”
Another important aspect of this issue is the medium through which it is being transmitted. Today, through our machines and personal devices, we are all fixed features of an inescapable digital landscape. Sportsnet, by immediately firing Cherry following his remarks, controlled the narrative within this digital landscape—a phenomenon with which politicians are all too familiar. The question is, should we allow our concern for the “narratives” that may or may not occupy the internet, eclipse our decisions in real life? Put another way, should we allow the fear of being perceived on the internet in the wrong way, undermine our decisions in real life?
When they fired Cherry, there was no opportunity given for him to clarify whether he intended to target immigrants, in as derogatory a manner in which it was perceived online. Cherry is 85 years old and those that know him will be familiar with his yearly rants about the use of poppies and Remembrance Day. He has long been a bit insensitive. Those who don’t like his brash attitude, or the game of hockey altogether, can simply change the channel. They have for many years. For those that loved him and looked forward to his brash hockey commentary, his unyielding cheap shots at Ron MacLean, and his ridiculous collar and blazers, his firing represented a public beheading in the online world. An example was made of him on that Day.
What will be said of our culture when we are looking back at times like this in Canada? Do we really think we are united against those who undermine the inclusivity of all Canadians, and that this is best exemplified by our treatment of Don Cherry? Or is our situation one in which the digital medium chooses whose voice gets to be heard (and why)? Will reactions like this help to underscore the multicultural narrative Stockland so eloquently summarized? Or will they sow seeds of division between Canadians?
Here is one way of putting it: Politeness is a central Canadian value. How polite were we to Don Cherry on that day? Canadians could have done a much better job of being reasonable, respectful, and polite to a man who, like it or lump it, has been entertaining Canadians for generations. Our culture has never been one to overreact, take language out of context, or pillory an old Hockey guy. Why start now?
The truth is that Cherry was born during a time when war was a very real reality, one much closer to home, and poppies and Remembrance Day mean a lot to him, maybe to the point of going over the top and carried away. To fire him, after he talked about the poppies and our soldiers, after he spent his life entertaining the country – was that the right move? During Remembrance Day, we remember our fallen soldiers, and Cherry is right to point that out. It’s a shame he was fired for saying so.