Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Platforms and Politics


    In the late afternoon of December 6, 1989, a man who disliked feminists and disagreed with women making careers in traditionally male-dominated fields, armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife and entered École Polytechnique, the engineering school associated with the University of Montreal.         
    Once inside, he separated male students from the females and allowed the men to leave the building. Then he opened fire, murdering Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz. He also shot and wounded 13 others, mostly women who had dared study to be engineers. Their lives were never the same.
    Five days after the attack, the Governor General, Prime Minister, Quebec premier and mayor of Montreal, along with thousands of mourners, attended a joint funeral for nine of the women. In the aftermath, the federal and Quebec governments and the victims' families launched research projects into the prevention of violence against women. Lobbying by family members and feminist groups, among others, led to the establishment of the Canadian Firearms Act, which restricts the kinds of guns people can own, and who can own them. 
    Now, December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. There are vigils on that day across the country, and a white-ribbon campaign started by a group of Ontario men to symbolize their solidarity with the women who are hurt and killed by armed men. In Montreal, fourteen spotlights are lit on the summit of Mount Royal on the anniversary, and the names of the Polytechnique victims read aloud. There are plays and books and songs about the murders, including "Montreal," by the Tragically Hip.
    This is information that people who support the pro-gun lobby in Canada, especially in Montreal, should know.


    So, on December 3, when the Canadiens' Carey Price decided to take to social media in his camouflage and hunting rifle to protest Bill C-21, which tightens controls on access to handguns and semi-automatic rifles like the one used in the Polytechnique shootings, the timing was bad. Very bad.
    His public stance immediately divided opinion about him along political lines; pro-gun lobbyists who see him as a voice for their desire to loosen gun restrictions, and those who think gun laws don't go far enough in preventing firearms violence. His decision to support the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, which recently offered an online promo code labeled "POLY," further alienated fans who know and respect the legacy of December 6.

     Price, as so many with a public platform and not enough information do, made matters worse when he claimed not to know about the Polytechnique killings, and doubled down on his stance that the federal government is taking legitimate hunters' weapons away, which is untrue. (The Prime Minister and Bloc Quebecois leader, among many others, have stressed legitimate hunting rifles and shotguns will not be banned.) He added he didn't know about the "POLY" promo code of the group he claims to stand behind.
    Of course, Price is far from the first athlete to have used his public platform for political reasons, the most recently famous of them being former NFLer Herschel Walker, who's in a run-off vote for Senator in the US state of Georgia. Walker has repeatedly lied, made fantastical statements and displayed mortifying levels of ignorance in his campaign, but because of his sporting history and celebrity, still managed to attract enough support to have forced that run-off. Critics blame the Republican Party for taking a willing dupe and using him to push forward its own political interests.
    When Price made his comments, the gleeful support of the CCFR and Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre were almost instant.
    "Carey is absolutely right. Hunting is a great Canadian tradition. Trudeau’s attempts to ban hunting rifles are an attack on rural and Indigenous people. We must stop him," Poilievre proclaimed. He latched onto Price's fame and public support to appeal to his own political base and get in a dig at the Prime Minister (whom Price also blames for wanting to take his hunting rifles away) at the same time.
    Not all athletes use their public platforms in ignorance. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem at an NFL game, he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew the power his gesture would have to stoke a political fire, and he used it to encourage support for the mistreatment of Black people by police. He also knew he would likely pay a personal price, but he went there willingly.    


    Carey Price is a proud Indigenous man who enjoys hunting, just as his ancestors did and as is his right. He has quietly done much for children, particularly those who are Indigenous and underprivileged. His public legacy has been one of which to be proud. However, in this case he has chosen to take a stance without researching the facts. The problem with that is Price isn't you or I, who can mouth off on social media with the only consequence being a flood of insults in our comments.
    Price has a platform and influence, and when he speaks up, people listen. Many of them will choose to believe what he says without doing their own research just because a famous person told them it's true. That has real-world political and social consequences.
    His decision to speak on this issue, and the timing of his comments, has forced the Canadiens into damage control.
    "On Saturday, Carey Price posted a statement in support of the CCFR's opposition to proposed federal gun control legislation. As previously stated, Carey was unaware of the CCFR's recent marketing campaign nor was he aware of the unfortunate timing of his statement," the Canadiens said in a statement Monday. "The Montreal Canadiens wish to express their sincere apology to any and all who have been offended or upset by the discourse that has arisen over this matter in recent days."
    The team has also made a donation to the "Week of the White Rose Campaign," which sponsors young women who want to study engineering, in memory of the victims of Dec.6, 1989.
    Price continues to stand with the CCFR's misinformation that his hunting guns could be banned.


    Carey Price is learning now, as many athletes have before him, his words have consequences far beyond sports. In his comments, he's managed to hurt and insult people who mark this solemn occasion, embarrass his team and stoke a political fire already fueled by rhetoric and fabrication. He's allowed himself to be used by forces who have no interest in him aside from the fact that his opinion carries weight, and it's useful to their cause.
    At least, one would hope he's learned that lesson, especially this week, and uses his voice more wisely next time. It also wouldn't hurt him to learn a little bit about one of the seismic events shaping the recent history of the city that gave his voice power in the first place.

No comments: