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Last week, a reader wrote to say that “there is absolutely no doubt that a majority of Canadians agree with (Don) Cherry’s view of immigrants.”
Another told me that if progressives “really knew how people felt about new immigrants their heads would explode.”
Another wrote to say that immigrants absolutely should assimilate to our language and culture. Did I really think, this financial advisor wrote from his company email address, with his email signature attached, that “everyone should just retain their own language and live in ghettos amongst people just like themselves?”
Another correspondent asked if Muslim immigrants were more likely to wear poppies or celebrate 9/11. “I think you know there was a large grain of truth in what Cherry said and so do most Canadians,” he advised.
And yet, to hear Don Cherry explain it, all he ever intended to say, with his comments on what would become the last-ever edition of Coach’s Corner, was that Canadians should wear poppies. It is odd that so many people, on all sides, heard something else.
Tuesday was just the latest instance of his innocuous explanation, when Cherry’s new media venture, a podcast produced with his son and grandson, released its first episode.
His son Tim began by asking Cherry to explain his side of the departure from Sportsnet and the end of the 38-year run of Coach’s Corner.
“Evidently I said something,” the 85-year-old began, as though he still wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. He said everyone knew what was said by now, which is true.
“I offered to explain,” he said. “Not an apology, but I was going to smooth it over.” He said his bosses at Sportsnet “made conditions that made it impossible for me to do it. I just couldn’t do it.”
“I said what I said, “ he reiterated, a popular line of his over the past week. “I still say everybody in Canada should wear a poppy.
"Evidently I said something that upset Sportsnet and they canned me.”
None of this was particularly knew or unexpected, as Cherry has been saying versions of this for more than a week now in a series of television and print interviews. But it was still striking. As much as Cherry is a proud guy who doesn’t want to bow to the pressures of his corporate bosses or an adversarial media, here he was, sitting with family, with an opportunity to reflect on what has happened. And still, he refuses to give an inch, to allow that Canadians — good Canadians, as he might say — could have reasonably taken offence to his “you people” comments that were directed at those “who come here.”
There has been much parsing of those original comments and that original segment that aired more than a week ago. Some insist that Cherry never insisted to single out immigrants, and others say that if he did, he only meant all immigrants, not those who might be disproportionately represented in downtown Toronto and Mississauga, which were the places about which he specifically complained. Cherry himself has variously said his poppy admonition was directed at all immigrants, but also at all Canadians. “Everybody,” as he said on DC’s Grapevine, the new podcast.
Here he was, sitting with family, with an opportunity to reflect on what has happened. And still, he refuses to give an inch
Only Cherry knows what he was truly getting at in the moment, but the inference that was widely made — that he was criticizing immigrants for being ungrateful about the freedoms they enjoyed in Canada — was a reasonable one. I’m still not sure how you watch that original clip and don’t come away thinking that was exactly his intention.
But even if you don’t, if you are extending him the most charitable interpretation of his pro-poppy message as possible, it is also true that Cherry wounded a lot of people with his comments. And it is also true that in making them, he gave licence to a lot of people who have since rushed forward to say that, poppy issues aside, immigrants are a problem and Canada has too many of them. These are real sentiments that have been expressed in the past week, and not just in letters to newspaper columnists and in online comments.
Cherry has been given all kinds of opportunity to apologize for any of the hurt that his comments have sparked, even if they did so, as he now insists, unintentionally. But he also insists that he cannot do that. He maintains that all he ever meant was that people should wear poppies, and if people were offended by that, then too damn bad, and please enjoy my new podcast.
Would it be that hard to admit your chosen words might have caused real hurt? Would it be that difficult to acknowledge that there would be Canadians who, when one of the most famous people in the country goes on television to complain about the behaviour of people “who come here,” would find themselves feeling less Canadian than others? Would it be that tough to apologize to those people?
Apparently, it would. Cherry is not having second thoughts.
“The way I feel about it, the policemen are with me, the servicemen are with me, the Armed Forces are with me and the firemen are with me, and they are pretty good guys to have in your corner,” he said on the podcast.
The time for reflection, it would seem, is over.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019