Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. Mark Donnelly is an idiot. Worse than that, the apparent former anthem singer for the Vancouver Canucks is a dangerous idiot. By singing O Canada at the B.C. Christmas Freedom Rally 2020 – now that sounds like a group of reasonable people, doesn’t it? – Donnelly not only put himself and his nine children in harm’s way, he also publicly threw his support behind a group of people who would prioritize their personal freedom ahead of the well-being of their province’s most vulnerable people and those who care for them.
Again, this cannot be stressed enough: Idiot, idiot, idiot.
He’s also an idiot who lost his job. After learning that Donnelly was planning to sing at the anti-masker event, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini fired Donnelly over Twitter. Donnelly fired back, accusing the Canucks of censorship. “Sports figures, entertainers, politicians, etc., can stand for anything as long as it supports the narrative,” Donnelly told the Vancouver Sun. “You can support rioting, looting, destructions of livelihoods and reputation, but take a position against the narrative and you are worthy of exile or worse.”
As much as I abhor the thought, and as much as Donnelly is even more foolish for performing despite knowing it would put Canuck Sports & Entertainment in a terrible position from a public relations standpoint, it’s pretty difficult to argue with his logic. After all, Donnelly sang O Canada at an anti-abortion rally on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery eight years ago and there were no repercussions. And the question I have is, what if Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat had chosen to attend the rally? Would Aquilini have voided their standard players’ contracts and effectively fired them, too?
Of course not. And if he had, you can only imagine the hue and cry from the NHL Players’ Association. Player contracts are guaranteed, but there is also a provision in every SPC that requires a player, “to conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship, and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the club, the league or professional hockey generally.” It’s likely Aquilini would have had a similar kind of morals clause in his contract, which the Canucks appear to have used, but if that’s the case they’re guilty at the very least of a double standard.
On the night of March 8, 2004, Todd Bertuzzi almost killed a man while wearing a Vancouver Canucks uniform. He did it after teammate Brad May put a bounty on Steve Moore’s head for Moore’s dirty hit on Canucks star Markus Naslund the previous month. Bertuzzi was charged with assault causing bodily harm, then pled guilty after arranging a plea bargain with prosecutors. He was given a conditional discharge and served a sentence that included 80 hours of community service and one year of probation.
About eight months later, in the midst of a lockout that would wipe out the 2004-05 season, Francesco Aquilini bought a 50 percent share of Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, which owned both the Canucks and the Rogers Place Arena. When the league reconvened for 2005-06, Aquilini apparently had no problem reinstating Bertuzzi and honoring the two years he had left on his deal with the Canucks that would pay him $5.3 million per season. Bertuzzi was dealt to the Florida Panthers after the ’05-06 season for a package that included Roberto Luongo, a deal they would not have been able to make had Aquilini decided to be as hard on Bertuzzi as he was on Donnelly.
And then, of course, there was the case of current Canuck Jake Virtanen, who was caught on camera at a popular and crowded Vancouver nightclub in late June. Virtanen wasn’t violating any public health orders or breaking team or league rules, but it did put the Canucks in a bad light. And all Virtanen received for his indiscretion was a dressing down.
It’s pretty clear Donnelly dared the Canucks to take action against him. He was also defying a public health order and could have been ticketed for doing so, but that’s not the same as committing a crime. But you could also argue that he doesn’t deserve to lose the job he has done for the past 20 years. One wonders whether Donnelly might have a human rights case here. The day prior to Donnelly’s appearance, the Canucks issued a statement in which chief operating officer Trent Carroll said, “Mark Donnelly is acting independently and we hope the public understands he is not representing the Vancouver Canucks. We encourage everyone to wear a mask and to follow the provincial health orders.”
And it’s not as though Donnelly was putting anyone associated with the Canucks in peril with his actions. There are no games currently at which to sing and once they resume, likely in mid-January, anthem singers will likely perform remotely the way they did when the NHL went into the bubble for the playoffs.
Once again, Mark Donnelly does not deserve to be portrayed as some kind of martyr here. Nor does he deserve an outpouring of support. But does he deserve to lose his job for appearing at a rally that happens to be populated with anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers and who knows how many cookaloo conspiracy theorists? Probably not.