You can have hockey or gay rights but not both (under the Harper Government)

Please note this article is cross-posted on The Rabbit Hole.

Stephen Harper. Photo from the Huffington Post.

While doing research on hockey and Canadian masculinity I read an article by Jay Scherer and Lisa McDermott, from the University of Alberta, titled “Playing promotional politics: Mythologizing hockey and manufacturing “ordinary” Canadians.”  In the article the authors argue that Canada’s conservative government has used our beloved sport of hockey to redefine Canadian citizenship and identity in order to achieve a particular brand of Canadianness.  They outline how the Conservative Party (CP) conjured up a strategy that

has endeavoured to soften Harper’s image as an uncharasmatic, right-win ideologue, making the [Prime Minister] more palatable to middle- and working-class Canadian voters.  While Harper has actively pursued an association with a range of popular sporting practices (e.g. curling, the Canadian Football League, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, etc.), hockey remains the key element in a promotional arsenal that has habitually marketed him as a passionate hockey fan, an avid and dedicated hockey historian, and an “ordinary” Canadian hockey dad, thereby obscuring his ideological leanings and the effects of the CP’s neoliberal agenda of Canadians. (p.111)

The notion of using sport to bolster nationalism is anything but new.  However, what I do take exception with is how the CP chose to substitute the legacy of Canada’s progressive gay rights movement with trivial hockey facts.

Perhaps the CP’s most conspicuous (and long-lasting) attempt to pin down and promote what it means to be an “ordinary” Canadian has transpired through its placement of the Liberal’s Citizenship and Immigration study guide used by immigrants in their preparations for taking their citizenship exams….”The land, the environment and healthcare, mainstays of Canada’s self-image through the past two decades, are largely ignored” (A1).  In assessing the new guide and the re-envisioned “Canadian” projected through it, the Canadian historian Margaret Conrad remarked “[i]t’s kind of a throwback to the 1950’s.  It’s a tough, manly country with military and sport heroes that are all men….Conrad’s observations point to not only the CP’s masculinized representation of Canada, but also to its continued strategic deployment of hockey as an apparatus through which to promote the party’s brand, its leader, and its policies, as well as a medium through which it attempts to forge dominant understandings of “ordinary” Canadian identity.

Such efforts clearly continue to be played out on the cultural terrain of values.  For example, in contrast to the new citizenship guide’s numerous references to hockey (13 in total), Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism ordered the removal of all references to gay rights in Canada from an earlier iteration of it, including its decriminalization in 1969, the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005. (p.123)

I’m not sure how many Canadians were aware of this 2010 development, but probably not too many considering the CP government seems to prefer a clandestine form of governance.  Upon a cursory Google search of “Kenney removes LGBT from Canada immigration guide” a whopping two articles appear, one from the CBC and one from the Globe and Mail.  When challenged on his, or the CP’s, decision to remove Canada’s LGBT history from the immigration guide Kenney responded by saying that it had been overlooked and that “We can’t mention every legal decision, every policy of the government of Canada.”  Canadian gay-rights group Egale Canada met with Kenney to discuss the issue and were told that it would be updated in the next edition.  It’s now the end of 2012 and there are only 2 brief mentions of the word gay, but there is hockey to be learned!  There is a picture and description of Paul Henderson’s game winning goal against the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series, a nice banner photo of the 1978 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens, and a paragraph describing the significance of hockey to Canada’s culture:

Hockey is Canada’s most popular spectator sport and is considered to be the national winter sport.  Ice hockey was developed in Canada in the 1800s.  The National Hockey League plays for the championship Stanley Cup, donated by Lord Stanley, the Governor General, in 1982.  The Clarkson Cup, established in 2005 by Adrienne Clarkson, the 26th Governor General (and the first of Asian origin), is awarded for women’s hockey.  Many young Canadians play hockey at school, in a hockey league or on quiet street – road hockey or street hockey – and are taken to the hockey rink by their parents.  Canadian children have collected hockey cards for generations. (pg.39)

Ya because hockey cards are integral to our national fabric.  Do you know what the Citizenship and Immigration Study Guide says about gays in Canada?  “Canada’s diversity includes gay and lesbian Canadians, who enjoy the full protection of and equal treatment under the law, including access to civil marriage.”  Talk about space saving eh.  That one sentence is the definition of brevity. The second mention is the caption under a photo of swimmer Mark Tewksbury, “Olympic gold medallist and prominent activist for gay and lesbian Canadians.”

Wayne Gretzky and Prime Minister Harper. Photo from the North American Sentinel Dispatch Journal Times.

Tabatha Southey, of the Globe and Mail, called out Kenney’s decision to exchange the 8 words of “Same-sex marriage was legalized nationally in 2005” for “Canadian children have collected hockey cards for generations.” She writes

Canada, by the way, is one of only seven countries in the world in which same-sex and opposite-sex marriages have equal standing in law.  However, we are one of only four countries in the world in which hockey cards are routinely traded.  Before you judge Mr. Kenney, a long-standing opponent of same-sex marriage who is considered to be (and actually is) our Immigration Minister and who, either by inattention or design, included the hockey-card information and excluded any reference to same-sex marriage, take a moment to imagine that you come from a country in which it’s not acceptable to trade hockey cards.

Fact is the Harper Government could care less about LGBT rights (or any other ‘minority’ rights for that matter), despite a recent article in the National Post titled, “Warriors for gay rights: The conservatives have become unlikely LGBT supporters.”  Part of me questions whether or not they actually care about hockey.  I suppose, if hockey is truly the “safeguard of masculinity” (Wilson, 2005) for Canada then it would be the appropriate choice for erasing LGBT history.  Nothing ruins good ol’ white boy masculinity more than LGBT rights, or so some would like us to believe.  What I would like to say to the the Harper Government is, FINE. Roll back gun laws, ruin our environment, and try to take away our pro-choice rights.  It’s what you do, it’s your mandate – that I understand. But do not use hockey to do it! Is nothing sacred anymore? Hockey may be used to marginalize our aboriginal people, immigrants of colour, women, and the poor but as Brian Burke and the You Can Play Project demonstrate gays and hockey go together! If you can play, you can play.  Oh, but Brian Burke is an American.  Damn those progressive Americans and their cunning LGBT rights.  Well, if nothing else, considering Canadian hockey players no longer represent the majority in the NHL because of all the pesky Swedes, Russians and Czechs what our Citizenship and Immigration Study Guide should really read is “Gays not all that welcome in Canada, unless you can play high performance hockey.”  After all, if there is anything worth defending in this twisted world of ours it’s not the strides we have made with regard to protecting human rights but Canada’s dominance on the international hockey stage and the fact that hockey and Canada are synonymous.

P.S. Does anyone else wonder which three other countries routinely trade hockey cards?

Works Cited:

Scherer, J. & McDermott, L.  (2011).  Playing promotional politics: Mythologizing hockey and manufacturing “ordinary” Canadians.  International Journal of Canadian Studies, 43, 107-134.

Wilson, JJ.  (2005).  Skating to Armageddon: Canada, Hockey and the First World War.  The International Journal of the History of Sport, 22(3), 315-343.


2 thoughts on “You can have hockey or gay rights but not both (under the Harper Government)

  1. Pingback: Roundtable: The NHL and NHLPA Partner with the You Can Play Project | Hockey in Society

Please read our Comments Policy (in "About" section of the blog) before commenting. Comments will be screened for approval by an Editor before being posted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s