Why Canada Will Never Cancel Bryan Adams

Photo: Courtesy of Bruce Glikas/WireImage.
Depending on who you ask, Bryan Adams is as Canadian as maple syrup, BeaverTails, and hockey. He’s a proud national treasure and hometown soft-rock legend synonymous with a certain kind of (read: white) Canadian culture. Those same people might also say that spewing racist rhetoric is decisively not Canadian. How could it be? Racism is a thing reserved for our neighbours to the south, eh. Yet on Monday evening, Adams went on an expletive-filled tirade on social media about coronavirus, attributing the COVID-19 pandemic and his cancelled gigs at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall to “fucking bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy bastards.” His Instagram post went on to say, "My message to them other than 'thanks a fucking lot' is go vegan." (He posted the same message to Twitter, then later deleted it.) 
The backlash was swift. Amy Go, prominent Chinese-Canadian activist and president of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, told the CBC that Adams’ post “justifies this racist hatred against Chinese” (referring to the recent spike in hate crimes towards Asian-Canadians) and said his words were, “so irresponsible and just so, so, so, so racist." While the origin of coronavirus is still unknown, Adams' message promotes two debunked theories that Chinese wet markets (a term for fresh food markets) in Wuhan are culpable (numerous early COVID-19 cases were found in people not connected to the markets) and that the virus was created on purpose in a lab in China — an idea that has been rejected by the World Health Organization and the scientific community but bolstered by the Trump administration.
Kim’s Convenience actor Simu Liu tweeted that Adams’ rant will “condone and enable acts of hate and racism. It runs counter to everything I love about Canada.” People expressed their disappointment with Adam’s sentiments both on Twitter and in the comments on his Instagram post (which are now disabled), with some promising to boycott his shows and calling for the “Everything I Do” singer to be “cancelled.”
Others argued he did nothing wrong. “Give Bryan Adams a break,” one user tweeted. “He’s only saying what the majority is thinking.” This tweet, which has over 1,000 likes, doesn’t speak for all Canadians, but if the comments under the tweet are any indication, there are many people in this country who share Adams’ views. The fact that an old, white Canadian celebrity said something racist isn’t shocking to me. Neither is it surprising that people are viewing this racist tirade with ambiguity, because subtle, casual racism has always been Canada’s strong suit. Anyone worrying about the future of the music icon’s career, shouldn’t.
The mixed reaction to his post is only part of why Adams will not, in fact, be cancelled. What he wrote was absolutely xenophobic — we’ve seen how referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” has led to racist abuse directed at Asians in North America — and blaming a specific group of people for a global pandemic is ignorant at best and dangerous at its worst. In an Instagram post on Tuesday morning, Adams wrote, “Apologies to any and all that took offence to my posting yesterday.” (For the record, I’m sorry to those who are offended is not the same as I’m sorry.) He went on to say, “I just wanted to have a rant about the horrible animal cruelty in these wet markets being the possible source of the virus, and promote veganism.” 

Big public mistakes, even if they are rooted in misogyny and racism, are not career killers in Canada.

With this non-apology, Adams is doubling down on precarious theories that put the safety of Asian-Canadians at risk. And dismissing his actions in the name of veganism is just lazy and thoughtless. Cancel culture is not something I believe exists — especially when it comes to older, rich, and typically white men (see: Louis CK). It's a catchall phrase that belittles the opinions of marginalized groups who justifiably hold people in power accountable for what they do and say.
If cancel culture was real, Adams’ rescheduled shows will be played to empty arenas. (I would bet he’ll be playing to sold-out crowds.) Never forget, this is a country that elected a prime minister who wore blackface multiple times. It’s the same one that gave Don Cherry a million chances after years of loudly being a bigot while vilifying the women who spoke to hockey’s insidious history. If cancel culture existed, Jian Ghomeshi wouldn’t be back with a new podcast for Canada’s Persian community. 
Each of these men’s transgressions fall on varying degrees of the injustice spectrum — some worse than others — but they are all examples of the unsettling fact that big public mistakes, even if they are rooted in misogyny and racism, are not career killers in Canada. Adams has been inducted to Canada’s Walk of Fame. He’s an officer of the Order of Canada. Prior to this meltdown, if you were to tune into any high-profile Canadian event (like the recent #StrongerTogether benefit) Adams would be front and centre. Will he lose these privileges now that he’s been exposed as someone who carelessly adds to anti-Asian rhetoric? Will tweets like the one above from Corner Gas star Tara Spencer-Nairn make people start to question whether Adams deserves his status as Canada’s smooth-rock sweetheart? 
I doubt it, because to admit that Bryan Adams is a racist is to acknowledge that ignorance like this is as Canadian as cracking open a 2-4 of beer and listening to “Summer of ’69.”

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