OPINION: ‘You people’ are wrong about Don Cherry and Jess Allen

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All at once, on Remembrance Day of all days, Canada seemed to forget that we have larger issues, like access to clean drinking water, poverty and homelessness, and the global climate crisis. Instead, many rallied together to fight over a less important issue: comments made by Don Cherry and Jess Allen.

Don Cherry and Jess Allen (Toronto Sun/Website)

Many believe that it is good that he was fired. As much as we want to believe this Canadian icon had no ill intent, his remark referring to “you people” who “come here” did not reference ALL people, he was referring specifically to immigrants. It was a racialized comment and in an interview after the fact, Cherry mentioned that if he could change what he said, he would correct it to “all people”.

While it is great to hear what he would change after the fact, it is clear his original comment was aimed at minorities and creates an “us vs. them” mentality. Some may say that he shouldn’t be fired because he’s always been this way and is always offensive. If my 85-year-old, white, conservative grandfather were to make an offensive comment about immigrants, I would still tell him how his remark is derogatory and try and correct his point of view.
So knowing what we know of Don Cherry, should he have been fired? The verdict is that we don’t get to make that decision. Sportsnet is a private company and, ultimately, they can decide who will best represent them. If they don’t want Don Cherry because of Sportsnet’s values or financial incentives, that is up to the company and there is no freedom of speech law that forces a company to let employees speak freely about whatever they want regardless of a companies interests.

There are also a lot of people arguing that Jess Allen should be fired for her stereotypical remarks on hockey players. “If Don Cherry was fired, she should be too!”. Is it the same thing? Well, sort of. But CTV is the company that employs Jess Allen and would decide to keep her on the air, only the company can decide to keep or fire an employee.

In completely different ways, Cherry and Allen made bold and incorrect assumptions about a group of individuals. Both on-air remarks were very misinformed. Cherry did not mention that many Canadian soldiers and Canadian allies were African-American, Muslim, Sikh, and Indigenous. You cannot tell by looking at somebody how long they have lived in Canada, if their ancestors fought in the war, or if they are respecting the troops. Furthermore, some of the nicest Canadians I have met enjoy hockey, who are not bullies, and it is just another example to show that no one is lesser for the lifestyle that they indulge in.

Now that private televised companies have made their decision, I would like to strongly suggest we talk about something more important. If the number of people who signed a petition to support Don Cherry or Jess Allen stood behind supporting climate action or supporting clean drinking water to Indigenous Reserves, we might make some meaningful progress.