Opinion

Don Cherry's weaponization of poppy dangerously perverts Canada's national identity

By using his Coach's Corner pulpit to turn the poppy into a social weapon against immigrants to Canada, Don Cherry has selfishly made this Remembrance Day about him instead of the veterans.

Cherry has selfishly made this Remembrance Day about him instead of the veterans

On Hockey Night in Canada's Nov. 9 Coach's Corner segment, Don Cherry sparked controversy by singling out those he says he believes are immigrants for not wearing poppies to honour fallen Canadian soldiers. (Sportsnet)

Coach's Corner is a Canadian institution, and since its inception more than 30 years ago, the Don Cherry and Ron MacLean tandem has arguably been the most important team of broadcasters to offer hockey commentary across the country. Their five-minute sermon on Saturday nights has come to punctuate our fevered hockey religion in a nation that still sees excellence in the sport as our raison d'etre.  

Household names, Ron and Don have created an unmistakable tableau of what it means to them to be Canadian.

For Don Cherry, this is reflected by someone who plays a hard-nosed style of hockey that includes finishing your checks, dropping the gloves, and avoiding the sin of deflecting pucks with an outstretched stick while attempting to block a shot. 

These were messages that I remember being parroted by my coaches in junior select hockey as a kid in Toronto. The impact of Cherry and his Rock 'em Sock 'em philosophy was evident in practically every arena across Canada. As his mystique and influence grew, so did his ability to use Canadian symbolism as a way of constructing a veneer of unimpeachable patriotism.

It is why he always got a pass for being pugilistic, brash and discriminatory.

Sportsnet issued an apology on Sunday morning after Hockey Night personality Don Cherry said during his Coach's Corner segment the previous night that newcomers to Canada love the way of life here but don't honour veterans. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/File)

However, through his persistent celebration of hard hits and concussions, his transparent disdain for Europeans, and now his latest diatribe that immigrants don't buy poppies, he has dangerously perverted the definition of our country's identity.

There was never a November when my immigrant father wouldn't proudly fasten that beautiful red flower to his lapel. This simple, important gesture of remembrance was a way for him to express his gratitude to the brave women and men from all walks of life who sacrificed their lives so his kids could have better ones. 

It is what inspired me to volunteer at Sunnybrook's Veterans Program as a high-school student, and is part of the reason I now work as a rehabilitation physician serving veterans who have had traumatic injuries.

It is why we all still pause on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to honour those brave soldiers. 

By using his pulpit to weaponize the poppy, Cherry has selfishly made this Remembrance Day about him instead of the veterans.

His callous employment of "you people that come here, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy," is a window into his anger at how Canada has changed, and it is the manifestation of a futile resistance to an inevitable multicultural and diverse evolution.

Don Cherry sparked online backlash on Saturday night for his comments about immigrants not wanting to wear poppies ahead of Remembrance Day. 0:50

It is, sadly, a most Trumpian attitude right in our backyards. 

The backlash against Cherry on social media has been rightfully swift and blistering.

In many ways, however, this situation represents a missed opportunity for advocacy. Veterans deserve to be much better supported in terms of health care, education, and other social services. Using its platform, Hockey Night should have reacted to Cherry's statement by creating a movement to raise awareness about veterans' issues.

Unfortunately, Hockey Night in Canada has long looked the other way when it comes to Cherry's rants.

Sportsnet, too, will attempt to distance itself from his comments, but will likely keep giving him the opportunity to be xenophobic, because viewership is more important than values. 

As Cherry's supporters mount the inevitable counterpunch to the accusation of cancel culture, we should recognize that the case against Cherry is decades in the making. This isn't a one-off. His increasingly unpopular opinions have served to divide rather than unite his audiences.

He now represents a growing liability to his employers, while simultaneously representing a perpetually vanishing voice that threatens his relevance.

Ultimately, we gather this week to pay homage to those who paid the greatest price for our freedom and country. Lest we forget. Our veterans.


  • This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

About the Author

Adam Kassam is a Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation specialist physician who was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. Adam received an undergraduate education from Cornell University , an MD from Dartmouth Medical School and a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University.

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