So Don Cherry got fired. About time. The man has been his own fireworks factory for 38 years. Then he lit one incendiary match too many.
He failed to realize that once you become public property, you lose the privileges of individuality. You can no longer claim the liberty to speak for yourself.
Like everyone else, Don Cherry is entitled to express his own opinions -- within his own circle. But Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada is probably the most public pulpit in the country.
Cherry has been a fixture on Hockey Night in Canada for 38 years. Initially, having been fired as coach of the Boston Bruins, he limited his commentary to hockey tactics.
But he soon used Coach’s Corner as a soapbox to sound off about social issues.
Some of his controversial views were related to hockey. Face visors, for example. But he strayed into personal prejudice when he claimed that protective gear was worn by wimps, and by “Europeans and French guys.”
A similar bias surfaced when he derided Olympic medalist and Canadian flag-bearer Jean-Luc Brassard as “a French guy, some skier nobody knows about.”
Other rants had nothing at all to do with his hockey expertise. He crashed Rob Ford’s inauguration as Mayor of Toronto, grabbing the cameras to denounce bicycle riders as “pinkos.”
On another occasion, he argued with co-host Ron MacLean about Canada not joining George W. Bush’s war on Iraq.
No longer tolerable
And last weekend, he attacked immigrants. Although he didn’t specifically name immigrants, the words “You people … that come here,” made his target fairly clear. Later alibis fell flat.
“You love our way of life,” Cherry went on, “you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy…"
The president of Sportsnet -- which owns and produces Hockey Night -- fired Cherry two days later. Bart Yabsley called Cherry’s comments “discriminatory… he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.”
Freedom of speech
Predictably, a chorus of voices rose in Cherry’s defence. One theme insisted that he had a constitutional right to freedom of speech.
True. He does. The Canadian Constitution does guarantee freedom of speech. For that we can thank John Diefenbaker, whose Bill of Rights and Freedoms Pierre Trudeau absorbed into the Constitution Act of 1982.
Unfortunately, the Charter does not include the caution: “Your right to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose.”
The laws prohibiting speech that may foment ill feeling against any race or group come under hate speech, in the Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code enshrines a principle that the Constitution doesn’t -- the misuse of “trust, power or authority.” Having sex, for example, is a crime even if both parties consent, if one of those parties is in “a position of trust, power or authority” over the other.
Typical professions might be teacher, coach, babysitter, family member, or doctor. Also an employer, with an employee. Or a military officer with a lower rank.
My own church, the United Church of Canada, has policies that will not permit an unmarried minister to fall in love with a member of the congregation. It’s taken for granted that a priest or minister is in a position of trust and/or authority over a lay person. To continue their relationship, one of them must leave the congregation -- thus, theoretically, leveling the playing field.
Betraying a position of trust and authority lay behind the scandal of priestly abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
Expected standards of behaviour
As a TV star -- possibly one of the most popular personalities in the country -- Don Cherry had a privileged position. He abused that position to bully nameless people who could not defend themselves.
He doesn’t deserve special treatment just because, as Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun argued, “he has made a lot of money for a lot of people.”
Prominent persons -- any prominent persons -- have standards they are expected to live up to.
Queen Elizabeth cannot tell Donald Trump to “eff off” -- even if she wanted to. The Pope cannot come out onto his balcony dressed in a Speedo -- even if he wanted to.
Don Cherry transgressed the bounds of his position of public trust.
We expect our public figures to think before they shoot off their mouths. We expect them to measure the impact of their words before they speak, to consider the repercussions of their actions before they act.
Don Cherry didn’t. One time too many.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Perhaps for the first time, almost all my mail about last week’s column on climate change deniers was negative. Two learnéd papers proved that I was wrong, and that an excess of CO2 would lead to a new utopia.
Two letters, I think, thanked me for writing that column, and more or less agreed with my views.
On the other hand, a reader named Neil Miller wrote the editor of the newspaper that publishes these columns: “I am writing to inquire about your paper’s application of journalistic standards and tests of veracity in the content of your paper, in particular to the opinion piece penned by Jim Taylor.”
The editor, in his wisdom, chose not to publish Miller’s letter. I rather liked it -- without intending to, Miller confirmed my conviction that deniers will continue to deny even after forecast effects of climate change actually take place.
Miller also stole a phrase from Donald Trump: “The 11,000 ‘scientists’ made reference to by Taylor is FAKE NEWS of the first order… Alarmist Taylor spews fear-mongering B.S. quotes from a non-research opinion piece, referencing a list of 11,000 non-scientists, a list that includes Mickey Mouse, as well as 40-odd Canadians, one of whom lists degrees from a non-existent university (read diplomas-for-sale facility)...”
I didn’t check the validity of the degrees of all the 11,000 scientists. But I did check on Mickey Mouse. He was definitely not listed. Perhaps he too was fake news.
Steve Roney at least offered a rational basis for denial: “Every single prediction of pending doom precise enough to be scientifically tested, since the time of Malthus, has been proven wrong. So why would we believe the experts again?
“Every expert has a vested interest in predicting dramatic change; ideally, a doomsday scenario, requiring their immediate help. If they do this, they get the media, they get the grants, they get the academic chair, they get fame and fortune. If they do not, they risk losing their livelihood.
“The moral: we need to spend less time listening to the experts…”
Bob Rollwagen added his own commentary: “Small cars are out and SUV's are in. Neighborhoods are rebuilt with bigger homes. Every day, a new issue is identified as having the biggest negative impact on our climate. Yesterday it was the Fashion industry because of the energy needed to make the fibres used in modern clothing. Last week, fracking in the USA...
“[Deniers claim] that the entire petroleum sector in Canada is so small in comparison to the real polluters like China and India, so it is not hard to understand why no one sees the logging truck coming. Some say the point of no return is coming. But the same news cast talks about projects going on for 40 and 50 years, as if the climate was not even an issue.
“While it is obvious that we need to agree on some everyday measurements that provide each person the ability to understand what the impact of their efforts are and build an incentive that rewards Green actions, it seems everybody want to do their own thing and no one wants to put a price on excesses. All for financial gain! Accumulated wealth is a good measure of excess use of natural resources; personal wealth, at the expense of a future healthy planet for all, is winning the battle.”
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