“During last night’s broadcast, Don made comments that were hurtful and prejudiced and I wish I had handled myself differently. It was a divisive moment and I am truly upset with myself for allowing it,” he said on Twitter. “I have worked with Don for 30 years, and we both love hockey. But last night, I know we failed you.”
During his weekly Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry complained that he’s less frequently seeing people wearing poppies to honour fallen Canadian soldiers — and he singled out those he believes are immigrants in the Toronto area.
“You people … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that,” Cherry said. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”
Cherry’s remarks prompted a comment from the National Hockey League.
“Hockey is at its best when it brings people together,” the statement released Sunday reads. “The comments made last night were offensive and contrary to the values we believe in.”
Cherry’s employer, Sportsnet, called his comments discriminatory and offensive and said that they “do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network.”
“We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks,” Bart Yabsley, president of Sportsnet, said in a statement.
Cherry has yet to issue a public statement on the comments, which drew ire across the country. By Sunday afternoon, #FireDonCherry and #DonCherryMustGo were still trending topics on Twitter.
Gurpreet Singh Dhillon, a regional councillor in Brampton, Ont., was one of many who took to Twitter to denounce Cherry’s remarks.
“I’m done trying to explain to people like @CoachsCornerDC that yes we too are Canadian, and that ‘us people’ also sacrificed for the same freedom for all, side by side with other brave soldiers, even though we ourselves weren’t afforded the same opportunities or freedoms.
“PS I bought my poppy,” he added. “Should I send you a copy of the receipt?”
Harpreet Saini, a criminal defence and immigration lawyer in the Toronto area, said he felt Cherry was targeting not only immigrants but especially immigrants of colour.
“I think that Mr. Cherry fails to understand the impact and contribution of immigrants — not just in Canada and around the world, not just today — but throughout Canada’s military history.”
His grandfather served in the Indian Army in Burma during the Second World War. Later in life, he never wore a poppy, Saini said.
“Sometimes the decision not to wear a poppy can be a political one as well,” he said.
Gurratan Singh, member of provincial parliament for Brampton East, added his thoughts.
“You people? WE people fought for OUR shared freedoms even when they were denied to us,” he wrote on Twitter. “Bukham Singh, a Sikh, enlisted, fought & died for Canada in #WW1 despite facing racism that lives on in your comments.
“We won’t have our love for Canada questioned,” he said.
Paula Simons, an Independent senator from Alberta, also condemned the sentiment behind Cherry’s remarks.
“We don’t honour the sacrifice of those who died in battle by sowing division or distrust,” Simons wrote.
On the other hand, Guidy Mamann, a Toronto immigration lawyer and an immigrant himself, said he’s cutting Cherry some slack.
Mamann said he doesn’t think Cherry expressed himself very well, but he was ultimately trying to say that all Canadians, regardless of where they were born, should honour the memory of those who “paid the ultimate price.”
“Don Cherry is a Canadian icon. We’ve learned all about him for years,” he said. “We know who he is. I don’t think he meant any offence by that. I don’t think he was targeting immigrants.”
During the segment, Cherry made specific mention of the city where he lives, Mississauga, Ont., claiming “very few people” wear poppies there.
The city’s mayor, Bonnie Crombie, pushed back, saying Cherry’s comments were “offside” and called on him to apologize.
“I think he should be a little more thoughtful and careful when talking about our new Canadians going forward,” she said in an interview.
According to 2016 census data, 53.4 per cent of Mississauga’s total population are immigrants.
Others lambasted MacLean for not addressing Cherry’s comments during the segment. There were calls for him to apologize as well.
“Not sure why more people aren’t calling out Ron Maclean (sic) for nodding mutely during Don Cherry’s racist tirade,” Joel Sandaluk, an immigration and refugee lawyer in Toronto wrote. “Silence is often interpreted as assent.”
“’Ron MacLean’ is trending because people recognize that the guy who nods along with the doddering racist night after night is a pretty big part of the problem in his own right,” Twitter user Matt Blair wrote.
Cherry made the comments prior to running his annual Remembrance Day video montage, where he is seen walking through a military cemetery in France visiting the graves of Canadian soldiers who went to battle in the First World War.
Coach’s Corner is still broadcast on CBC in a sub-licensing deal with Rogers Media, which owns Sportsnet. But the show is run by Sportsnet and filmed in its studio in the CBC building in Toronto.
In an email to the Canadian Press, CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said as Rogers Media is the national rights holder for NHL Hockey in Canada, CBC has “no purview over any editorial (choice of commentators or what they say) with respect to Hockey Night in Canada.”
Poppies are distributed every year starting on the last Friday in October until Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 by the Royal Canadian Legion to raise money in support of veterans and their families.
In an email to Global News, Nujma Bond, a spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Legion, said Cherry’s comments reflect his own “personal opinions.”
“Mr. Cherry is a strong supporter of the National Poppy Campaign and we remain appreciative of what he does for veterans,” Bond wrote.
Bond says the Legion recognizes that “many new Canadians understand and welcome the tradition of the red poppy.”
“We will continue to do our best to educate all citizens about the significance of this powerful symbol, and the meaning of Remembrance,” the email reads.
— With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ Kerri Breen and Sean O’Shea