Don Cherry’s  hometown of Mississauga is a popular and welcoming city for  immigrants seeking to buy homes, but that didn’t prevent its famed resident from calling them out for not wearing Remembrance Day poppies.

Cherry, 85, complained Saturday on his weekly Coach’s Corner broadcast as part of Hockey Night in Canada that he’s less frequently seeing people wearing poppies anymore to honour fallen Canadian soldiers — and he singled out those he believes are immigrants in the GTA.

“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,” Cherry said. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

The response from the public was swift and passionate. By Sunday morning #FireDonCherry remained the second trending topic on Twitter in Canada.

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According to Canadian Press, Paula Simons, an independent senator from Alberta, said it has not been her experience that new immigrants don’t wear poppies or appreciate the tragedies of war, and further condemned the sentiment behind Cherry’s remarks.

“We don’t honour the sacrifice of those who died in battle by sowing division or distrust,” Simons wrote.

Given that he lives in, promotes and supposedly loves Mississauga, Cherry’s remarks belittling his neighbours seem puzzling

According to a recent World Population Review study, “just under 50% of the population of [Mississauga] have a white ethnic background and just over 20% are from Southern Indian heritage. The next two largest ethnic groups are Chinese and Black. Over half of the people of Mississauga have a native language which is not English.”

Experts cited in the study predict that Mississauga, the second largest city in the GTA with a population of 722,000, will have a future population of 878,000 by 2041, a significant portion of which will be fuelled by immigration.

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The report also notes that Mississauga still remains Canada’s safest town for 9 years running, even considering the population growth.

Recent data released by the Toronto Real Estate Board shows that Mississauga and Brampton enjoy booming housing markets popular with immigants that is hampered only by a continual lack of housing inventory.

Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie wrote on Twitter:For [Don Cherry] to say that “you people” do not respect Canada or our veterans is despicable. We’re proud of diverse cultural heritage and we’ll always stand up for it.”

Gurpreet Singh Dhillon, a regional councillor in Brampton Ont., replied on Twitter to Cherry’s puzzling comments: “I’m done trying to explain to people like @CoachsCornerDC that yes we too are Canadian, and that “us people” also sacrificed for the same freedom for all, side by side with other brave soldiers, even though we ourselves weren’t afforded the same opportunities or freedoms.”

Dhillon also remarked: “PS I bought my poppy. Should I send you a copy of the receipt?”

Harpreet Saini, a criminal defence and immigration lawyer in the Toronto-area shared his reaction on Twitter, according to CP.

“Immigrants ARE Canadians. The way of life, milk and honey referred to belongs to immigrant Canadians as much as it does to born here Canadians. @CoachsCornerDC forgets that immigrants contribute to the ‘way of life’ and ‘milk and honey.’”

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Saini goes on to chide Cherry, saying  he forgets that immigrants too fought in the same wars Canadian-born people did.

“South Asians joined the Indian Armed Services, fought, and sacrificed their lives in both World Wars. Their contribution woefully unappreciated. Don chastises immigrants for not appreciating the price that ‘these guys paid’ in referring to Canadian born veterans,” he said.

“Implicitly, he forgets that immigrants also paid the same price.”

Many others online have called for Cherry to be fired and for his co-host, Ron MacLean to issue an apology.

Sunday afternoon MacLean tweeted that he wanted  "to sincerely apologize to our viewers and Canadians. During last night's broadcast, Don made comments that were hurtful and prejudiced and I wish I had handled myself differently. It was a divisive moment and I am truly upset with myself for allowing it."

MacLean went on to say: "I have worked with Don for 30 years, and we both love hockey. But last night, I know we failed you. I see hockey as part of what unites us. I have the honour of travelling across our country to celebrate Canada's game, and our diversity is one of our country's greatest strengths."
In a statement Sunday Sportsnet President Bart Yabsley said: “Don’s discriminatory comments are offensive and they do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network.

“We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks.”

CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said in an email that "As Rogers Media is the national rights holder for NHL Hockey in Canada, CBC has no purview over any editorial [choice of commentators or what they say] with respect to Hockey Night in Canada."

The NHL released a short statement saying: “Hockey is at its best when it brings people together. The comments made last night were offensive and contrary to the values we believe in."

Cherry regularly promotes his strong ties to Remembrance Day and the Canadian military.

The former coach of the Boston Bruins was the 40th person ever to be inducted as an honourary life member of the Royal Canadian Legion.

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That roster of life members includes notable historical figures such as John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson and Dwight Eisenhower.

Cherry's controversial remarks came prior to running his annual Remembrance Day video montage, where he is seen walking through a military cemetery in France visiting the graves of Canadian soldiers who went to battle in the First World War.

Every year, poppies are sold starting on the last Friday in October until Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 by The Royal Canadian Legion. The money raised is used to support of veterans and their families.

Last year, Cherry joined a group of prominent Canadians endorsing the release by the Royal Canadian Legion of a digital poppy. The group also included Margaret Atwood, Ashley Callingbull.

Cherry dedicated his digital poppy to his great uncle, Sgt. Thomas William MacKenzie. He died in battle four days before Armistice Day in 1918.

In an opinion piece for the CBC, Adam Kassem said that "by using his pulpit to weaponize the poppy, Cherry has selfishly made this Remembrance Day about him instead of the veterans.

"His callous employment of 'you people 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 a poppy,' is a window into his anger at how Canada has changed, and it is the manifestation of a futile resistance to an inevitable multicultural and diverse evolution."

  • With files from Canadian Press and Global News