The 85-year-old Cherry said on Saturday on his weekly Coach’s Corner segment as part of Hockey Night in Canada that he’s less frequently seeing people wearing poppies anymore to honour fallen Canadian soldiers — and he singled out those he believes are immigrants in Toronto, prompting a swift online backlash.
“You people … 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. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”
Among the online responses was one from Paula Simons, an independent senator from Alberta.
She wrote that it has not been her experience that new immigrants don’t wear poppies or appreciate the tragedies of war, and further condemned the sentiment behind Cherry’s remarks.
“We don’t honour the sacrifice of those who died in battle by sowing division or distrust,” Simons wrote.
Gurpreet Singh Dhillon, a regional councillor in Brampton Ont., also took to Twitter to react to Cherry’s comments.
“I’m done trying to explain to people like @CoachsCornerDC that yes we too are Canadian, and that “us people” also sacrificed for the same freedom for all, side by side with other brave soldiers, even though we ourselves weren’t afforded the same opportunities or freedoms.”
“PS I bought my poppy” he added. “Should I send you a copy of the receipt?”
Harpreet Saini, a criminal defence and immigration lawyer in the Toronto-area shared his reaction on Twitter.
“Immigrants ARE Canadians,” he wrote. “The way of life, milk and honey referred to belongs to immigrant Canadians as much as it does to born here Canadians. @CoachsCornerDC forgets that immigrants contribute to the ‘way of life’ and ‘milk and honey.’”
He continues, saying Cherry forgets that immigrants too fought in the same wars Canadian-born people did.
“South Asians joined the Indian Armed Services, fought, and sacrificed their lives in both World Wars. Their contribution woefully unappreciated. Don chastises immigrants for not appreciating the price that ‘these guys paid’ in referring to Canadian born veterans,” he wrote. “Implicitly, he forgets that immigrants also paid the same price.”
Others called for Cherry to be fired and for his co-host, Ron MacLean to issue an apology.
“#FireDonCherry Ron MacLean needs to apologize on air for nodding his head and failing to stop Cherry,” one Twitter user wrote.
“This absolutely has to be the final straw,” another tweet reads. “He’s been getting away with this for years and it’s so embarrassing as a hockey fan to have him representing the sport. #firedoncherry.”
By Sunday morning #FireDonCherry remained the second trending topic on Twitter in Canada.
Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley then issued an apology for Cherry’s remarks saying that they “do not represent our values” and that they “have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for theses divisive remarks.”
The NHL also weighed in later on with their own statement.
“Hockey is at its best when it brings people together. The comments made last night were offensive and contrary to the values we believe in,” the remark read.
Cherry has yet to issue a response of his own.
However, his “Hockey Night in Canada” co-host Ron MacLean took to Twitter on Sunday to offer an apology for Cherry’s “hurtful and prejudiced” remarks, declaring that he wished “I had handled myself differently. It was a divisive moment and I am truly upset with myself for allowing it.”
He continued in a second tweet.
Cherry made his comment prior to running his annual Remembrance Day video montage, where he is seen walking through a military cemetery in France visiting the graves of Canadian soldiers who went to battle in the First World War.