Claiming ‘free speech’ in Don Cherry firing is willfully ignorant

Willful ignorance looks bad on all of us

It is quite a fantastic liberty that we have here in Canada, to be able to blither and blather our own drivel at will. Among like-minded folk, at a dinner party, in front of City Hall – all open forums for free speech.

Even in this newspaper, I could replace the asterisks in a curse word spelled out and be free from criminal persecution. That said, Black Press could likely sue me in a civil dispute, citing a drop in readership, financial losses, etc. That’s because free speech extends only as far as it relates to the relationship between an individual and government – claiming “Free speech!” when you’re banished from the comment section, told that your letter will not be published or told to please cease spewing profanities, falsehoods or inaccuracies in spaces that you may deem to be “public,” like in a shop or even online, is an entirely useless means of protection.

Don Cherry’s last words on Coach’s Corner are a good example. Some unpaid and unsolicited pundits have posited that the paternal figure of many hockey Canadian hockey players was dismissed unduly for what others debated to be derogatory remarks. Rogers Media, his employer, is a company, not a government, and has more levers to fire an employee whom they deem to have breached the threshold of decency. I think we can agree that this threshold had been dirtied several times already by the colourful commentator.

And while it’s all well and good to scream “Free speech!” as much as you like (though it won’t get you very far in a private proceeding), let’s at least agree on what it was that was spoken.

Some defenders have taken to sharing screen shots of Cherry’s rant about not seeing enough poppies in Toronto, as transcribed by nameless individuals. One such post came on the Grand Forks Gazette’s own Facebook page – the laugh came when we played the original video back and tried to follow along with the supposed transcription. Shocking to none, the words written and the words spoken did not match.

(Transcribing Cherry can be difficult, admittedly. The question of how to punctuate his rambles is terrible.)

In the full clip, Cherry did appear to call out newcomers to Canada. “You people love – that come here – you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that,” Cherry said. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price.”

We can debate where Cherry’s upset came from or whether it was worth declaring – so long as we’ve all agreed to the basic terms of the discussion.

But to dissect the rant: first, note the dashed clause at the beginning of the quote. The rest, frankly, is fairly factual and I don’t see many online debating the fact of the benefits of the poppy campaign nor the sacrifices made by soldiers. Thus, the question that you can feel free to argue comes from the first sentence, take from it what you will, but debate in good faith and in accounting for the fact that newcomers were mentioned, just perhaps not by a word you’d ascribe.

Cherry said it, he stands by it and maybe so do you. That does not mean that his employer has to.

One reason that politicians bear projections of posturing, as put forward by the public, is that people contend that some individuals pick and choose their facts to suit their argument. It’s inevitable, to some extent. Where to draw the line on background context can be contentious – and a column, let alone a tweet or a Facebook status update, does not boast the real estate necessary for many of the issues batted around today.

But let us try, in our discussions, to be civil, to be conscientious and to argue in good faith, accounting for at least the most objectively available facts – like the precise words of the man in the double-breasted suit. Willful ignorance looks bad on all of us.

Don Cherry Fired

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