As It Happens

Writer who said it's 'time to say goodbye' to Don Cherry surprised he was actually fired

When Sunaya Sapurji wrote an article titled "It's Time To Say Goodbye To Don Cherry And His Xenophobic Ways," she never thought it would actually happen.

'This isn't the first time that he has said something offensive,' says sports journalist Sunaya Sapurji

Hockey commentator Don Cherry is shown in Toronto in Feburary 2011. Sportsnet and the Coach's Corner star cut ties on Monday following his controversial remarks made on Saturday. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)
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When Sunaya Sapurji wrote an article titled "It's Time To Say Goodbye To Don Cherry And His Xenophobic Ways," she never thought it would actually happen.

Sapurji, assistant managing editor for the Athletic Toronto, was writing in response to the hockey commentator's remarks on Saturday accusing new immigrants in Toronto and Mississauga of not wearing poppies for Remembrance Day.

"You people come here, 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 during his "Coach's Corner" segment on Hockey Night in Canada.

"These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price."

On Monday afternoon, Sportsnet cut ties with Cherry, citing his "divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for."

Cherry, meanwhile, told the Toronto Sun that he stands by what he said. 

Sapurji spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the comments and the backlash. Here is part of their conversation. 

What was your reaction when you heard that he had been fired? 

I was actually surprised. 

This isn't the first time that he has said something offensive or controversial, and he has been able to survive unscathed, you know, going back to when he was still with CBC on Hockey Night in Canada, before Sportsnet took over those rights.

So I thought they would just wait for this to blow over and this would just be another one of these incidents. 

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

Just remind people, what are some of the other things he has had to say that were so offensive? 

He has called Europeans and French-Canadians "soft" for wearing visors

He has taken potshots at Russian players

He has spoken out against concussion spotters or players who have suffered concussions

You know, [he said] people who ride bicycles are "pinkos." 

No one has been left unscathed by Don Cherry and his weekly Saturday rants. 

Any doubt in your mind as to who "you people" is referring to? 

No, because he also juxtaposed that with, you know, talking about him seeing very few people wearing poppies in downtown Toronto and in Mississauga, where he lives. 

Toronto is very diverse, as is Mississauga, so I don't think there was any question of what he was trying to say. 

[It's] not just that the remark is racist. As many have pointed out, it's just factually inaccurate, that when it comes to service and sacrifice, there are people, not only immigrants in Canada who have been in wars since The Great War to Afghanistan, but also people from other countries who have made enormous sacrifices. What's the reality there?

One of the things I mention in my story is that my great-uncle was a doctor in World War II and he was killed in Burma. And I think sometimes people forget about the sacrifices that other countries made during World War II or in different conflicts.

One of the really sad things about what Don Cherry said on Saturday was the fact that his comments took away from what we should be doing today.

Today we shouldn't really be talking about Don Cherry. We should be talking about our veterans and paying respect to the people who have sacrificed so much for us.

Your great-uncle, he was in India, and went off to fight the British war effort ... like so many others from India. So many more people from India and other British colonies lost their lives fighting in those wars, didn't they?

One of the things about the Indian Army at that time is that they were all recruits. Everyone was a volunteer. There was no conscription. So everyone signed up willingly to go. 

There was a documentary recently [about] a group of 10 Sikhs who joined the Canadian Forces and went off. Three of them died overseas fighting the First World War. And they were denied Canadian citizenship, and yet they still sacrificed, they still fought for Canada in that war. And that seems also to be forgotten in our history, isn't it?

I hope if some good comes from this it's that people will learn these stories and maybe become educated about what other countries and what, you know, immigrants to Canada have done for Canada in terms of their service.

You write that your grandmother, she rarely spoke of her brother, your great-uncle who died in the war. But your grandmother was also a great hockey fan, right?

She became a fan of the Montreal Canadians and she would watch them on the French broadcast even though she couldn't speak or understand French.

What do you think she would have thought of Don Cherry's remarks?

To be honest, I don't think that she would have paid any attention to him. I think she would know what her family and people like her have contributed to Canada.


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Katie Geleff. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.