Hockey Fans for Peace an antidote to sour Don Cherry

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CBC's Hockey Night in Canada is known for a few things: a national tradition for hockey fans across the country -- and loudmouth pundit Don Cherry.

At Rob Ford's inauguration as Toronto mayor in December, Cherry gave the ceremony's opening remarks clad in a neon pink blazer. He said the garment was for all the "pinkos out there that ride bicycles." Cherry upstaged the new mayor, going on to blast what he called the left-wing media, and "left-wing kooks."

That speech prompted a group of Vancouver hockey fans to start the Facebook group Hockey Fans for Peace. Kimball Cariou, editor of People's Voice newspaper, calls himself the spokesperson by default. His colleagues include people involved in the anti-war movement in Vancouver who were disgusted by Cherry's infamous rant in the Toronto council chambers and on other occasions.

"The CBC is required by its legal mandate to provide a balanced coverage," said Cariou. "In the case of sports coverage, I think I can safely say that it's simply not done at the CBC in any type of sports reporting."

Cherry topped off his efforts with a visit to Afghanistan on Christmas day, during which he was invited to fire an artillery shell into "insurgent territory." "Taliban, here I come," he quipped. It was unknown who or what may have been hit by the round, though Canadian Defense Minister, Peter Mackay, who was also there, felt moved to say, "Don, this is a different type of 'He shoots, he scores.'"

In response to all this right-wing political posturing, Hockey Fans for Peace held a small rally at a CBC broadcast of a Vancouver Canucks versus Detroit Redwings game on Jan. 8. They handed out fliers and held a banner protesting the CBC's allegedly biased coverage of Afghanistan. The group's recent target within the CBC, however, has been Cherry, who has never backed down in offering his pro-war stance. The Facebook group currently has 226 members.

This isn't the first time Cherry's mouth has gotten him in trouble. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq by American troops, Cherry berated co-host Ron McLean for remaining neutral on the war and then blasted the Canadian government for not joining the U.S. Cherry has further been criticized for making disparaging comments about francophones, Europeans, and women.

"We weren't going to stand for Don Cherry claiming to stand for the views of hockey fans," said Cariou.

Hockey Fans for Peace is gaining momentum nationally. One fan, Art Bodger, joined the Facebook group from Montreal. "I've long had a love/hate relationship with Don Cherry," he said. "On the surface, he expresses a lot of sympathy for Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. But there's been other occasions where he's made his intentions known that there's a little bit more of an agenda." He says the concept of the group was "long overdue."

Bodger believes, however, that Cherry shouldn't have his comments censored since he doesn't face the same regulations at the CBC as a journalist would. "[Cariou] made a comment that sports culture reinforces that everyone has to conform to be a team player," says Bodger. "There's a bit of a parallel between that and what Don Cherry says about war and his jingoism." Bodger also initially joined Hockey Fans for Peace as a way to go against the stereotype that hockey fans are violent and macho.

Cariou says that the group is currently thinking of new ways to get their message across nationally. He says they hope to hold a few rallies in Toronto or Ottawa this season. "That's sort of the heartland of where Don Cherry supporters are," says Cariou.

"I do not think the CBC is pro-war in terms of corporate culture," says Bodger. "I think we have a government that would love to slash the CBC's budget and I think they're aware of that and I think they've made some effort to make themselves a little bit less offensive to this government." Both Bodger and Cariou argue that Cherry is kept at the CBC in an effort to make the corporation appear less liberal.

"I think it's a deliberate political agenda of the Harper government," says Cariou. "CBC and Don Cherry -- they're just pawns in a bigger game."

Scaachi Koul is a journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto, and an editorial intern at rabble.ca.

 

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