Last October, Indigenous activist and architect, Douglas Cardinal, filed a complaint with Ontario’s human rights tribunal, which sought to bar the Cleveland Indians from being able to use their name or wear specific logos at Major League Baseball games played in Toronto. Cardinal alleged the team name and logo of “Chief Wahoo” — a grinning cartoon man with red skin and a feather in his headband — violated both provincial and national human rights legislation. Despite the MLB’s insistence to do so, tribunal adjudicator, Jo-Anne Pickel, found that Cardinal’s discrimination claims do not fall under federal jurisdiction, and can proceed before the tribunal. Pickel rejected the Indian’s argument that Cardinal is required to bring his discrimination claims under Canada’s Trade-marks Act.
Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians, and Rogers Communication are named in the complaint, and fought to have the complaint dismissed on a number of grounds. Pickel rejected many of the opposing arguments, but did not immediately give the go ahead for the tribunal to hear the case in full. Pickel would like more evidence on whether games played at Toronto’s Rogers Centre can be classified under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Pickel also wanted a status update on a similar complaint that Cardinal filed with the federal human rights commission, but all parties said the status of the federal complaint could not yet be shared publicly.
Cardinal argued that the games played at the Rogers Centre constitute as a service, and that all three parties named in the complaints are part of providing it. Rogers provides the stadium where the games are held, the MLB schedules the fames, and the Cleveland team shows up to take part. Cleveland’s counter-argument was that it did not provide services in Toronto, since it attends the game and does not sell tickets. Pickel also wanted more evidence on this aspect before she could decide on that issue.
Last fall, Cardinal tried to get a court injunction to prevent Rogers from using the Indians name or logo in its broadcast of the ALCS series. An Ontario Superior Court judge ruled the Indians could use their controversial name and logo just hours before their playoff game against the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. A lawyer for the Indians argued at the time that Cardinal’s request for relied amounted to asking a court for censorship. A lawyer for the MLB also questioned why Cardinal would bring his injunction forward while the Blue Jays were in the playoffs.
Cardinal is a member of the Blackfoot tribe, an advocate for indigenous people and designer of the National Museum of the American Indian. He is hopeful for a lasting victory, and said in a statement “the consciousness of genocide and apartheid continues to be fostered by the insensitive use of demeaning and degrading symbols, mocking indigenous peoples. This must cease in order for reconciliation to have any meaning and substance.”