Last Saturday during Coaches’ Corner, a Canadian hockey icon went a step too far. On Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry went on the following rant:

“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”

Many immediately demanded Cherry’s head on a platter. Others railed against his co-host Ron McLean for putting his thumb up and saying nothing, when the latter is clearly paid to stay silent while Cherry runs his mouth. In a surprising show of good sense and solidarity with its viewers of color, Rogers and Sportsnet did a very brave thing: they fired him.

The result of his firing has led to praise by many, but if you look at the comments sections of the social media accounts of The Montreal Canadiens and others that announced his dismissal, you see Cherry being defended against evil “SJWs” who are allegedly punishing him for “telling it like it is”.

The problem with these comments?

They mostly come from whites.

They come from white Canadians, and in the cases where immigrants weighed in, many of them were white, and therefore benefited from white privilege. As a woman of color, I fully acknowledge that I am jeopardizing my safety by coming forward with my opinion about this, as many online trolls are also known for doxxing and inciting hatred against women and visible and sexual minorities.

But what I have to say HAS to be said, because there are many Canadian voices of color who have been drowned out by a chorus of vitriolic white hockey fans.

So who am I to call out a Canadian icon?

I’m Montreal-born daughter of a first generation Filipino immigrant. My grandfather served with the Americans in the Philippines against the Japanese in World War 2.

On my father’s side my ancestors are Eastern European Jews who immigrated in the 1910s. My great grandfather’s garment company made the uniforms for Canadian soldiers during the Second World War.

Being half-Asian, I can occasionally pass for white, but I am also regularly mistaken for Indigenous and Latina. Saying I’m Canadian often isn’t enough for a lot of white people I meet who will give me the “What are you REALLY?!” question, as if determining the true nature of my ethnicity will somehow affect how I’m treated.

Don Cherry did not explicitly call out immigrants of color. Nevertheless, every person of color knows that when an elderly white person (Cherry is 85) uses the words “you people” to call out immigrants, they are not referring to white immigrants. As many others have pointed out, most Canadians don’t think of whites when they think of immigrants because their skin color gives them the luxury of blending in with the majority.

I do not always have that luxury. My maternal family does not have that luxury. My black and Asian and many of my Middle Eastern friends do not have that luxury.

It’s not just that he painted all immigrants with the same brush and implied that they are somehow ungrateful to be here.

If there’s one group that understands sacrifice and gratitude almost as much as our veterans, it’s immigrants. Most immigrants abandoned lives they knew to come here, either because their safety was being threatened back home, or because they lacked opportunities where they were from.

As an ex-immigration law firm employee and a journalist, I can vouch for the fact that the Canadian immigration process isn’t easy. It’s often lengthy and expensive and the judges hearing refugee cases often go into hearings looking to find any excuse to refuse the applicant before them (see my 2016 article on how refugee claims are decided).

Cherry also inadvertently gave a voice and became a figurehead for the most racist and xenophobic members of Canadian society. The ones who believe that refugee claimants are somehow draining public resources and think that Muslim immigrants are out to convert everyone to their religion. He became a hero for people who yell “Go back to your country!” to Canadians of color, many of whose families have been here for generations and may very well include veterans of the Great Wars.

It must also be said that at the end of the day wearing a poppy is part of our freedom expression as Canadians and unlike Don Cherry’s comments, choosing to wear one or not is not determinant of one’s value as a Canadian. There are lots of ways to honor and support our veterans that do not include inciting hate or pinning on a plastic flower.

So let’s recognize Don Cherry for what he is: Canada’s racist grampa who should finally be retired and ignored.

Featured Image: Painting by Samantha Gold

On November 11th, after more research and more reflection, I stood watching the Remembrance day celebrations in Montreal. I was wearing a White Poppy, after the first blast of the cannon; I threw it in the garbage.

The Red Poppy is not about war mongering. The Red Poppy is not about militarism. The Red Poppy is about remembering the Sacred Dead, those who heard the call, felt the fight was just and put their lives on the line for a greater good.

But, originally, when the Red Poppy was given out in 1921, it was about more than that. It was about camaraderie, it was about caring for the less fortunate domestically and it was about trying to help the most affected by the pillages and destruction of war around the world.

Somehow, over almost a century these core messages were perverted. It is time we take them back.

GWVA constitution 1917 1In the early of fall of 1921, The Great War Veteran’s Association wanted to run a cross country campaign. Returned soldiers were worried, the government was apathetic and stingy, returned soldiers were starving. And so the Poppy Day campaign was started.

It was based on and in collaboration with efforts in France. Orphans and widows in the most ravaged parts of France had begun producing beautiful silk poppies in 1920 to cover their most basic needs, many were sold in the United States and around the world. Times were desperate.

The G.W.V.A was in touch with the needs of the poor and helpless. It wasn’t an organization of fancy officers and big shot generals.

It was started by non-commissioned members, mostly privates and corporals. Members addressed each other as comrade, and used their organizational strength to fight for Canadians.

Unlike the apathetic Officer’s Legion of today they were very political, although unfortunately sometimes reflecting the racial biases of the day. They had grand conventions and called for national unemployment insurance, jobs for the jobless and more help for the poor.

A lot of big shots didn’t like that. They were called Bolsheviks, fanatics and were suppressed mercilessly. But they kept on. Winter was coming and many knew their comrades wouldn’t make to the Spring. The Red Poppy, a desperate Hail Mary, just had to work.

The G.W.V.A Poppy Day campaign had three official objectives repeated across the country. The first was to inaugurate the wearing of the Red Poppy as a sign to cherish the memory of the Sacred Dead. The big shots who ended up taking over the campaign kept this one alive.

The second, explicitly, was to provide funds to relieve the very real distresses of returned soldiers, who very well couldn’t survive the winter. If you suggested the third today you’d be called a heretic. The G.W.V.A wanted to raise money for the orphans of Europe, the victims of the war. It is a national shame the second and third have been forgotten. We need to take back our traditions.

And people responded. That year, over 1 million poppies were sold. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised. Jewish, Orange Protestant and Catholic organizations set aside their differences and worked together.

In Ottawa, the tradition of laying poppy covered wreaths began on Parliament Hill. In Calgary, returned soldiers of all ranks had a ball at the beautiful Palliser Hotel, now reserved exclusively for the rich.

The following Sunday, the 10th Battalion showed off their brand new Highlander Kilts. In Toronto, thousands crowded the war monument, despite the slush and terrible weather, to show their respect.

Our great Canadian traditions have been stolen from us. It is high time we took them back.

The Red Poppy is about Remembrance, but it was about more than Remembrance. The G.W.V.A was created, in their own words, by bands of “weary-eyed, hopeless men who struggled to regain a niche in the country which apparently had no further use for them because their value as fighting units belonged to the past.”

Veterans today are facing austerity. Front line services are being cut. The government is getting stingy. Not much has changed.

This isn’t just about veterans, it is about all Canadians and it is about the world. We need to take back our traditions from those who use them against us. Like the Great War Veterans’ Association, together as comrades, we can make that happen.

Davyn Calfchild served in the Canadian military and earned three medals over five years. He attended Remembrance Day events in Toronto yesterday not as a protester but as a veteran.

He was carrying a Haudenosaunee flag, the flag of his people, while his friend stood next to him carrying a Mowhawk Warrior flag. They were there to represent Native veterans who served or are serving in the Canadian military.

Toronto police didn’t see it that way and arrested both men for refusing to take down their flags along with a third Native man who was filming the incident. This despite repeated pleas from Calfchild that he was a veteran and there to support veterans, which, after all, is the purpose of Remembrance Day.

While most mainstream media focused on how Rob Ford was booed while one veteran refused to shake his hand or what Stephen Harper was doing, this video made the rounds online, showing how, sadly, not all veterans are welcome at official Remembrance Day events.