Day 6

Hockey Night in Canada's Punjabi broadcast seeks to reunite fans after Don Cherry's firing

Don Cherry's firing from Hockey Night in Canada has divided Canadians, but Harnarayan Singh, co-host of Hockey Night's Punjabi-language broadcast, says hockey can still bring Canadians together.

Harnarayan Singh, co-host of Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition, says this week has 'been a lot'

Harnarayan Singh, co-host of Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition, says he's confident hockey can still unite Canadians despite a tumultuous week after Don Cherry's dismissal from Sportsnet. (CBC News)

Harnarayan Singh, co-host of Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition, has said for years that hockey is a uniting force for Canadians.

But this week, hockey fans didn't seem particularly unified when Coach's Corner co-host Don Cherry was fired by Sportsnet after he made widely-criticized remarks about "you people" who don't wear poppies on the program last Saturday.  

The comments have been widely viewed as targeting immigrants.

Some Canadians have been celebrating Cherry's dismissal while others have been protesting it.

"I think a lot of people are ready to go back and just talk about hockey and enjoy the game, too, because it's been a lot," Singh told Day 6 guest host Saroja Coelho.

Still, Singh hasn't given up hope that hockey can connect Canadians.

"It wasn't the hockey that divided people; it was a political statement on a hockey show that caused the issue," he said.

Below is part of that conversation.

During Saturday night's Coach's Corner segment, Hockey Night personality Don Cherry said he's less frequently seeing people wearing poppies anymore to honour fallen Canadian soldiers. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Your broadcasts are a lot of fun ... and people enjoy watching them. Do you think it'll be different this week with everything that's hanging in the air?

It's a good question, but on the other hand, we do ... our own intermissions. Just as lively as we are on the actual call of the game, we're pretty lively during the intermissions.

But I think people will appreciate if we stick to hockey as well because of the fact that the subject of what went on last Saturday on Coach's Corner, it has really taken over everybody's lives — it doesn't matter where you are, who you're talking to, this has been what's being discussed by the community and amongst Canadians.

I think a lot of people are ready to go back and just talk about hockey and enjoy the game, too, because it's been a lot.

It's clear that you want to offer people a retreat into the thing that everybody shares, but I'm wondering how you felt this week watching everything that was happening and the conversation that's opened up.

It wasn't easy because right away ... this is something that everybody is going to be talking about. And right away, just from our phones, our social media feed, from people within the community, from people within the company, everything kind of blew up.

It was difficult because it's one of those situations where, when you're in that position and you're a visible minority yourself and you're representing your community in a pretty mainstream way in media all across Canada, a lot of people are looking to you to answer for something that's happened or [ask] what do you have to say about it. 

Don Cherry admits he should have said “everybody” instead of “you people” in his criticism of those who don’t wear poppies for Remembrance Day, which led to him being forced out of his job at Coach’s Corner and Hockey Night in Canada. 3:56

And it took a little bit to process as to what was happening, and the situation actually changed pretty fast. And in one hand, I think it actually forced us as Canadians to have a conversation about one another.

This is something that when you're growing up, and you're different from your classmates, you do end up having to deal with ... from a very young age. Like myself, I grew up in a small town in southern Alberta and sometimes there is this divide that gets created just because of differences.

When we use words that creates this us vs. them mentality, these types of comments ... they make things worse as opposed to let's try to work together to fix or find a solution to something.

I want to ask you a direct question, Harnarayan. Do you think that Sportsnet made the right call in firing Don Cherry?

It's a difficult one for me to answer because of the fact that I'm employed there as well. But this is a decision that the executives had to come to ... and this is not the only controversial thing that he's said before.

There have been things about women, about Indigenous people, all sorts of political issues that have been brought forth on a hockey show. And it hasn't made it easy for executives in the past either.

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)

You have said many times in many interviews that you see hockey as this uniting force across the country. And, this week, we've seen that hockey can actually divide Canadians as well. How are you making sense of that?

I would argue back to that it wasn't the hockey that divided people. It was a political statement on a hockey show that caused this issue.

So if we were talking about the pure game of hockey, in terms of how great a sport it is, how we can be fans of the sport together no matter who we are, what language we speak or how we look ... that definitely does bring people together.

I think my experience in Canada would be totally different had it not been for the sport of hockey.

I know I'm Canadian, and I know I belong, but sometimes when you have divisive comments that come out, then it makes you reflect on things.

It's one of those things where you line up five different people from all different backgrounds and ethnicities and you ask yourself who out of these can be considered a Canadian? And the beauty of it is that all of them can — and all of them can be cheering for that same hockey team.

But sometimes it takes an excuse for us to have this conversation, and I don't think we should just ignore it. I don't think we should just say that, oh, this is being blown out of proportion. I would say to my fellow Canadians, let's talk about it.

Let's sit down together and let's reflect on who a Canadian is. And when you really look at that definition, that's what makes us the most unique country in the world, is that we are diverse and that we're all people from all sorts of different backgrounds, yet we're in the best country in the world and we're an example to the world.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, download our podcast or click Listen above.