Disputes over a divisive utterance of the famous show host Don Cherry have been continuing in the Canadian media for more than a month. The story has generated media coverage even abroad. Many public figures speak against Cherry’s unacceptable and reprehensible words. However, Don is not the only person who deserves to be condemned. The blameworthy are those who defend the hockey commentator, who call him a “true Canadian patriot”.
Comments glorifying Don Cherry keep appearing on the web over and over. Hiding behind patriotism their authors demand to throw away political correctness and to call a spade a spade for the sake of historical truth and the Canada’s future. – Okay, so let’s do it. And, here is the truth:
Mister Cherry claims that “newcomers” do not honor the Canadian soldiers who fought for our country, who paid the ultimate price to bring peace and to protect freedom. For the distinguished Mr. Cherry, it will be recalled that many of the Canadian soldiers killed in action in the First World War and other conflicts were themselves “newcomers”, children or grandchildren of “newcomers”.
Mister Cherry is confident that those who do not wear a poppy on clothing in November disrespect the memory of war heroes, the history of Canada and the Commonwealth. It may never occurred to Don Cherry that in the democratic country, which our veterans fought for, nobody has the right to decide for others how to express feelings, what and on what occasion to wear. Moreover, nobody has the right to abuse and accuse groundlessly millions of citizens of lacking national solidarity.
Some Canadians do not attach poppies to their clothing, but at the same time, they put flowers on the graves of the fallen soldiers. Some people quietly and without publicity donate to the Canadian veterans funds or war memorial programs. Yes, there are those who consciously do not wear commemorative symbols. But they have their reasons and opinion on the issue which they do not impose on others, unlike Don Cherry.
For instance, some Canadians of Ukrainian descent do not wear a poppy – the symbol of remembrance and victory in World War I. That’s because any reminder about the First World War gives them heartache and so far reminds them of what they cannot understand and accept.
On August 22, 1914, soon after the outbreak of the war the Parliament of Canada adopted the War Measures Act, under which Ukrainians who resided in Canada were recognized as “Enemy Aliens”. Over 8,500 people, including women and children, were interned and sent to camps, where they were treated as POWs. And, more than 80,000 were obliged to register as “Enemy Aliens” and report regularly to the police stations.
The interned Ukrainians were in no way guilty towards Canada, their new homeland where the Canadian government had invited them to with the promise of free land and true freedom. The same government took away all their property and sent them to the camps. Most of the Ukrainians had arrived to Canada from the western Ukrainian regions of Galicia and Bukovyna long before the war.
In 1914, the both regions were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that fought against Canada during World War I. It was regarded as sufficient cause for the internment of thousands of Canadian citizens of Ukrainian descent, many of whom died of starvation, wounds and illnesses afterwards. Prisoners cut down forests, built railroads, developed boreal territories. Some internees were shot dead while trying to escape.
Unbearable conditions in the camps sometimes led to mutinies. In 1916, a massive riot involving more than 1000 internees was violently suppressed by Canadian soldiers at Kapuskasing.
It should be noted that in the meantime a large number of Ukrainians fought valiantly for their new homeland within the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Notably, corporal Filip Konowal was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the Battle for Hill 70.
The internment camps were closed in 1920, although the war had ended two years earlier on November 11, 1918. This fact proves that grounds for the internment were contrived. In reality, the internment operations were carried out in order to exploit free labor of thousands of innocent people.
For the descendants of the Ukrainian Canadians thrown in camps by its own government for no reason, it is not simple to honor the victory in the First World War. It would be most tactless to impose on them traditions and rules that prescribe how the anniversary of that awful war is to be commemorated. Besides, it is not acceptable to patronize people only for being of non-Anglo-Saxon descent.
Don Cherry, the sportscaster having dedicated his whole life to hockey, covered the Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010, at the opening ceremony of which Shane Koyczan recited his famous poem “We are more”.
For Mr. Cherry and his numerous advocates, it is worth recalling the verses from the original version of that magnificent piece:
“When defining Canada, you might list some statistics
You might mention our tallest building, or biggest lake
But we are more than just hockey and fishing lines
of the rocky coast
We are the colours of Chinatown and the coffee of Little Italy
We are fathers brothers sisters and mothers,
uncles and nephews aunts and nieces. We are cousins.
We are found missing puzzle pieces
We are families with room at the table for
*Neil Karpenko, PhD