Canadian Judge Denies Last-Minute Injunction, Indians Can Play in Toronto with Wahoo Logo and Team Name


[image-1] Reporters in Toronto described a packed courtroom at the Ontario Supreme Court Tuesday, with lawyers, journalists and indigenous supporters stuffed into corners and even sitting on the ground to watch as a judge listened to arguments and considered whether or not to ban the use of the Chief Wahoo logo and the Indians team name in Ontario.

Judge Thomas McEwan ultimately ruled in favor of the defense: Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians and Rogers Communications, Inc. who owns the Toronto Blue Jays and the stadium in which they play, the Rogers Centre. Had he ruled in the other direction, the Indians would have been forced to wear Spring training uniforms and hats without the Chief Wahoo logo or the team name for Games three, four and five of the ALCS. Announcers in Ontario would've been legally required to refer to the Indians as some variation of "the Cleveland team."
Though no reasons were provided for the injunction's dismissal — Judge McEwan said that his rationale would be released in the coming days, noting the need for urgency given Game three's 8:08 first pitch — he presumably agreed with lawyers for the defense, that the last-minute injunction filed by renowned Canadian architect and indigenous activist Douglas Cardinal would have been ineffective; and that though Chief Wahoo and the team name may be perceived as racist and offensive, it is nonetheless a protected form of speech in Canada.  

A lawyer for the Cleveland Indians characterized the injunction as “absurd” and “without precedent.” In addition to the logistical headache of rustling up acceptable uniforms, he said, the Jumbotron at the Rogers Centre would have to be blanked, seeing as its computers had already been loaded with Indians imagery. (This sort of thing was described as "catastrophic harm.") 

Lawyers continually asked why Mr. Cardinal, who has been exposed to the Indians’ team name and the Chief Wahoo logo since 1977, when the Blue Jays were founded, was filing this emergency injunction now. They suggested that forcing the Indians to wear spring training uniforms that at least one player (Andrew Miller) didn't even have, and forcing announcers to refrain from using the team name constituted a form of censorship.

Blue Jays radio play-by-play announcer Jerry Howarth, for what it's worth, has voluntarily refused to utter the team's name since 1992, after receiving a heartfelt letter from a fan. 

Douglas Cardinal is in China currently, and will be for the duration of the ALCS. The defense argued that games will not be aired in China, so how could Cardinal personally suffer from racial discrimination if he couldn’t even access the broadcasts. Cardinal's lawyer Monique Jilesen responded that streaming services are available in China and that Cardinal, a Blue Jays fan, could easily DVR the games. 

Jilesen's central arguments, though, echoed the familiar bullet points of anti-Wahoo protesters locally. She argued, for instance, that the fact that indigenous peoples are caricaturized in sports mascots and logos sets them apart from other minorities. 

"You could not call a team the New York Jews," she said. 

The court's decision arrives days after former Indians President (and current Blue Jays President and CEO) Mark Shapiro admitted that the Chief Wahoo logo had been personally bothersome to him when he was with the team.

“We as an organization, with strong support from ownership, came up with the ‘Block C,’ Shapiro told NBC Sports last week. “We built equity in the ‘Block C.’ We gave that alternative for people, and I think that we established that as an important logo, and now the primary logo for the Cleveland Indians.”

NBC and others (Deadspin, for example, on Tuesday) noted that the ownership’s distancing itself from the Wahoo logo scans as disingenuous — "The Cleveland Indians are Liars," reads the headline — when Wahoo's usage continues to be so pervasive. Wahoo caps were worn in all three of the ALDS games against Boston and in the first two games against Toronto.

Thanks to reporters Joseph Bream for the National Post, Tamara Khandaker for VICE News, and Azzura Lalani for the Toronto Star, whose live reporting aided and abetted Scene's long-distance coverage.

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