SULLIVAN: Don Cherry's rant against 'you people' is a dog whistle to those with prejudice

Like every other red-blooded Tim Horton’s totin’ Canadian, I can’t help mulling over the about-time prime time demise of Don Cherry.

Cherry’s best-before date expired decades ago during the days when hockey goons like Dave Semenko and Dave Schultz ruled the rink, but he and his rock ’em, sock ’em ethos inexplicably lingered on Hockey Night in Canada until this past Remembrance Day, of all days, when he was assessed a career misconduct for running off at the mouth.

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The only surprise is that it took 33 years for it to happen. And his rant – “You people that 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. ... These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price” – is hardly the worst thing he ever said on the air. It’s just the last.

If you write a column for the North Shore News, you know that Don Cherry is a snowflake compared to the Angriest Old White Guy of them all, Doug Collins, who used to vituperate in this very space. Doug wrote his last column for the News in 1997, so there’s a whole generation who may not be familiar with the North Shore’s most notorious noise.

What to say about Doug Collins?

Well, in 1939, he declared war on the Nazis and proceeded to fight them all by himself, escaping 10 times from German custody.

The trouble is, Doug Collins’ war never ended, and he confused having an opinion with carpet bombing. He started off on the left and eventually fell off the right end of the spectrum, ranting all the way about everything from immigrants to gay pride parades.

He was so far right that in 1988, Preston Manning refused to endorse his candidacy for the Reform Party because Doug refused to sign on to the party’s anti-racism policy, as it would cramp his style.

In 1999, Collins was the first to be found guilty under the province’s anti-hate legislation. The BC Human Rights Commission found that a selection of his columns appearing to deny the Holocaust promoted hate, and he was ordered to refrain from publishing statements that “expose or are likely to expose Jewish persons to hatred or contempt.”

In one of those columns, he referred to Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Holocaust drama Schindler’s List as “Swindler’s List.”

Collins refused to capitulate, appealing the decision of the “Human Rights Gestapo.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his appeal. He died in 2001, unrepentant to the end.

While Cherry is by far the lesser curmudgeon, he and Collins had one thing in common: their fierce allegiance to freedom of expression. Collins argued – at the top of his leathery lungs – that Section 2(B) of the Charter protected that freedom. Cherry, if he could find the passage in question, would no doubt agree.

So here I am, astride the News podium, basking in the unreliable protection of Section 2(B). Collins, of course, would say I have nothing to worry about because I have nothing to say. And while I hasten to disagree, underneath the old white guy disguise beats the heart of what Doug would call a lickspittle quivering jellyfish who refuses to agree with him even though I know he’s right.

Well, no I don’t. In fact, I’m such a lickspi… etc. etc. that I’m a whole blizzard, not a mere snowflake.

In particular, I fervently believe in Canada’s multicultural experiment, an experiment that must succeed if we hope to live in harmony, not just here but the world over.

Here in Canada, we celebrate diversity despite reactionary efforts to discourage it. And we don’t back down when someone like Don Cherry casually marginalizes people who may not yet understand the potency of symbols such as the lapel poppy.

When Don Cherry starts to rant against “you people” it’s a dog whistle heard in arenas across the land. It goads people into taunting and bullying the enemy, and so often, the enemy is a person of colour.

It’s a nasty irony. People are marginalized for not fitting in (see Quebec, Bill 21), and then excluded for trying.

So, here on the North Shore, that spooky sound I hear is the sound of the ghost of Doug Collins gnashing his teeth as I bleed pink all over his space in the North Shore News. 

Good thing I don’t believe in ghosts.

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan can be reached at

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