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

Remembrance Day has come and gone and with it many people’s concern for our members and veterans of the Canadian Forces.

In the days around November 11 you probably all saw the same cartoon by American artist Rob Rogers circulating online. It featured the famous Tomb of the Unknown Soldier a monument to World War I soldiers, shown next to an illustration marked “The Known Soldier” in which a beggar holds sign saying: “Homeless, Suicidal, and Suffering from PTSD” and asking frantically if anyone is there:

Known Soldier

The cartoon is a sad reflection of how veterans are treated in Canada and the US. In Canada, veterans fall under the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, which was enacted in 2005 to “recognize and fulfill the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service.”

The law provides that this obligation is to members and veterans of the Canadian Forces who were injured or killed as a result of their military service as well as to their spouses and children. What the law does in fact is give the Minister of Veterans Affairs the power to provide financial assistance, and rehabilitation and vocational services to facilitate veterans’ reentry into civilian life and compensate them for their service. In cases where a soldier is completely incapacitated by a service related injury or condition, the veteran continues receive benefits until he or she is able to work or until he or she reaches retirement age.

At first glance, the Act seems like a wonderful thing for it looks like it provides for our troops and their families when they get hurt defending us. But, like all laws there are more than a few catches that make the Act a lot less fair than it seems.

First, the Minister of Veterans affairs under article 9 (2) must refuse an application for the services and assistance the Act provides if the application was made more than 120 days after the veteran was released from service. Every section of the law mentioning eligibility for benefits refers to this “prescribed time.”

There are lots of reasons a person will take their time submitting an application for government benefits. If a soldier, is for example, in a coma for over four months and has no close family, it would be no surprise that said soldier would not submit their application in 120 days. Other possible scenarios are medical or psychiatric conditions that were caused by their military service but would not necessarily surface during their service or within those 120 days. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a perfect example.

While this provision of the act does allow the Minister some discretion if he is “of the opinion that the reasons for the delay are reasonable,” setting a maximum number of days in which to submit an application for help simply doesn’t fit with the nature of medical and psychiatric conditions that don’t obey such arbitrary timelines.

veterans affairs canada

A second caveat of the Act is regarding the eligibility of government benefits for veterans. If a veteran is deemed in need of a rehabilitation or vocational program, the Minister can pay the veteran benefits – called an Earnings Loss Benefit – for as long as he or she is completing the program, or until it’s cancelled or until the veteran reaches age 65 and can retire.

The Minister can refuse or cancel such a program if he dubs it reasonable, but the circumstances considered reasonable are never explained in the Act. If the veteran is no longer entitled to the Earnings Loss Benefit because, for example, the extent of their health problems keeps them from working despite the rehabilitation program, he or she can apply for an Income Support Benefit but it should be noted that under article 33 veterans aren’t eligible for this if they decide not to reside in Canada.

Now let’s look at the something called the Permanent Impairment Allowance. Under article 38 the Minister can pay a permanent allowance to a veteran who has one or more physical or mental health problems creating “permanent or severe impairment.” Article 40 says that in order to determine whether a veteran can continue to receive this type of benefit the Minister can make him or her undergo a medical exam by a person of his choosing. Anyone who’s battled a government for disability payments knows that when they get to choose the doctor, chances are that doctor is going to be more sympathetic to them than to you.

All that said, let’s take a look at how much a veteran will actually get. For a single veteran entitled to an Income Support Benefit, they get a $1132.26 a month. If you take the time to crunch the numbers on the average cost of living, a single person needs at least two grand a month after taxes in order to survive.

If you’ve been permanently disabled due to your service, you get a lump sum determined by a percentage calculated based on the extent of your disability. The highest amount you can get for the highest percentage of disability is $250 000 which sucks if you’re crippled and are expected to live another 30 years.

But don’t worry, there’s hope! You can choose to have your lump sum in the form of annual payments that take the lump sum and divide by the number of years you choose and then add in the interest. No matter how you slice it, it’s still not enough to live on.

The Remembrance Day slogan is “Lest We Forget” and yet we have forgotten to care for those risking their lives for Canada. Instead of honoring them with expensive monuments and a massive ceremony once a year, how about we salute them with something a lot more concrete: proper care and benefits.