“I was disappointed.”
Those were the first words spoken by Dr. Habib ur Rehman, the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Regina chapter when asked by Global News how he felt about Don Cherry’s controversial Saturday night comments.
“I think Don’s comments are designed to create disharmony and misinformation,” he said. “He should have done more research before opening his mouth. We should remember that in World War I, more than 2.5 million Indians fought for the British Empire. More than 90,000 people died. That was an effort from this so-called immigrant population.”
Cherry is facing backlash for comments he made during Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. During his weekly Coach’s Corner segment, 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.
Rehman says many of those who attend his mosque are immigrants. He said his, and Ahmadiyya Muslim mosques across the country, have been the site of poppy boxes and collected donations for the Royal Canadian Legion for weeks now.
“We have been doing the poppy drive for the past month. Form Toronto to Vancouver — everywhere,” he said. “That is to remember the veterans who sacrificed their lives for this country. It’s important for keeping their memories alive and letting our youth know they were the people who sacrificed their lives for their sake.”
Several individuals and organizations connected to Cherry have since posted public apologies. Bart Yabsley, Sportsnet president, called the comments “discriminatory” and “offensive” and said the network has “spoken with Don about the severity” of the issue.
The NHL also issued a statement Saturday saying “Hockey is at its best when it brings people together. The comments made last night were offensive and contrary to the values we believe in.”
And Ron MacLean, Cherry’s Coach’s Corner co-host, has also spoken out about the comments, saying “It was a divisive moment and I am truly upset with myself for allowing it.”
Many have also taken to social media calling on Rogers Media and Sportsnet to sever ties with the famed television personality. The hashtag #fireCherry was trending on Twitter Sunday.
Rehman, though, doesn’t think that’s the best way of addressing the comments.
“I don’t think that is the way to deal with it,” he said. “He is free to say whatever he wants to but it should have been said in a more sensitive way and also he should have done more research before he said that.”
What worries him more is the effect the words have already had on the general public.
“Obviously there’s a lot of misinformation these days about the immigrants and Muslims and we’re trying to tackle that. More information, in a positive way, needs to be spread rather than these irresponsible comments.”
“We immigrants, and particularly Muslims, are as Canadian as anybody else. We will sacrifice our lives for the sake of Canada. And, it is a religious duty for Muslims to obey the laws of the country we belong to. It doesn’t matter if it is a Christian country, a Hindu country or a Jewish country — if we live in that country we have to be loyal to that country as a religious obligation.”