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Denis Coderre

As the Stanley Cup playoffs rage on, a select crew of Canadian players whose teams are out of the running are over in Moscow defending Canada’s great cultural hockey tradition at the IIHF Hockey World Championships. The 2007 team, which was given a pass this year by past, current, and future greats like Sidney Crosby, Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth so they could lick the wounds of a tough NHL season, is led on the ice by one Mr. Shane Doan.

But as the quest for the cup continues and the Worlds are well underway, they’re both being overshadowed by another Canadian cultural tradition: the self-promoting protestations of… what, exactly? by Canada’s official cultural muckraker, Liberal MP Denis Coderre. Apparently Shane, during a heated battle in Montreal where the calls by four francophone officials were definitely not in his team’s favour he is alleged to have had the audacity to say something nasty about them. In a hockey game, no less, which are of course known for the pleasantries and politeness exchanged among the league’s dainty, sensitive skaters.

Here, dear friends, is the offending quote (cover your eyes, kids!):

“Four French referees in Montreal, Cuje, figure it out.”

That’s what he said, as was determined by the NHL investigation, including testimony from goaltender Curtis “Cujo” Joseph, conducted after the December 13, 2005 game. But of course that’s not what linesmen Michel Cormier, from 30 feet away or what Coderre, several electoral ridings away, heard. Their imaginative ears inferred far fewer syllables: “f$cking French”. A fitting synopsis, perhaps, but not what he said.

In any case, either statement may be on record as the mildest response to having the opposing team run your goalie without receiving a penalty in NHL history.

But of course, this isn’t really about what he said or didn’t say, is it?

And this isn’t the first time Coderre, formerly the Liberal cabinet member responsible for sport, has gone after Doan. The first time was in early 2006, when Doan was called to play for the Canadian olympic team — and when Coderre was fighting to be re-elected in his fiercely Québécois riding of Bourassa, the Bloc Québécois candidate nipping at his heels as they have throughout his career. What a tidy coincidence that Doan made himself such a worthy target for the Liberals, whose government was under siege for having siphoned millions of dollars in graft to their Quebec constituents. Actually that number likely tops hundreds of billions, but that’s another issue. The battle between Denis Coderre and Shane Doan has raged ever since through defamation lawsuits.

It would be foolish to deny that in hockey circles there is a palpable animosity between anglophone and francophone hockey players in Canada — friends of mine who played bantam and junior pored over their French textbooks looking for worthy insults to utter as they lined up for faceoffs against kids from Quebec. Even the CBC show “Making The Cut” (now on GlobalTV), which searched for the top 6 unsigned hockey players in its first season, aired the fiery utterance by one of the anglophone players against a Québécois competitor who’d slashed him during tryouts: “that’s typical cheap french bullsh#t.” He later apologized, but the reality is that when insults fly out on the ice, no matter how harsh they might sound, they are rarely sincere.

It would be much more foolish to give credence to this “affair”, as it will inevitably be called, which drags Hockey Canada chief Bob Nicholson to testify before a bogus parliamentary committee as the Bloc Québécois clamors to ring in on the subject and defend le Quebec Libre, while Coderre plays the jubilant ringmaster. He must be thankful that someone has said something mean about his constituents so that he can rise to defend their honour against the slightest .. er .. slight.

But the whole process is, in the grand Candian parliamentary tradition, a farce. Hockey Canada is not even a federal agency, though it receives funding from the ministry responsible for promoting sport. What’s more, it is illegal for Parliament to accuse a Canadian citizen of a crime (is there a crime here?) for which he has never been convicted — this is called a Bill of Attainder and it’s been rejected by most western democracies since, oh, the 19th century. But this waste of time serves a grander purpose that makes it easy for our honourable MPs to pack the bandwagon full of proponents: it’s distracting the nation from the fact that 8 more Canadian soldiers died last month in Afghanistan, and that the violence (and our inability to cope with it) is escalating.

Nope. This isn’t about hockey, racism or ethnic slurs. It’s about grandstanding, and the age-old Canadian sport of politicians capitalizing on a societal victim mentality which has ingrained itself in the minds of Canada’s francophone minority. This is about the politics of culture, and Shane Doan is a pawn in a perpetual cycle pandering to and exploiting the irrational fears of a distinct society by Canada’s politicians, Nationalist and Separatist alike.

Those of us who understand and play the sport of hockey, which was originally promoted by Lord Stanley to unify the budding Canadian nation, believe and respect the fact that what happens on the ice stays on the ice.

In this case it is clearly the gross misconduct of politicians, not of hockey players, that shames our nation.

-Ian.

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