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A Toronto court will hear arguments today on an attempt to bar the Cleveland Indians from using their team name and logo in Ontario. (Mark Duncan/The Associated Press)
A Toronto court will hear arguments today on an attempt to bar the Cleveland Indians from using their team name and logo in Ontario. (Mark Duncan/The Associated Press)

Ontario court denies bid to block Cleveland Indians name, logo Add to ...

An Ontario Superior Court justice turned down a request to issue an injunction blocking the Cleveland Indians from using their name and logo at Monday night’s playoff baseball game in Toronto against the Blue Jays, just three hours before the first pitch.

The Cleveland team’s name and what court heard is a “racist caricature” of a logo – the smiling, red-faced Chief Wahoo – are the subject of complaints filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission by architect and indigenous activist Douglas Cardinal. He alleges that being forced to see the logo while watching baseball is discrimination.

But those legal fights could take years. In the meantime, lawyers for Mr. Cardinal were in court on Monday afternoon, trying to convince Justice Thomas McEwen to issue an order that could have forced the Cleveland team to wear different uniforms, and Rogers Communications, which owns the Jays, their stadium and their broadcaster, to avoid using the name and the logo on the air.

Read more: A brief history of controversial team names from Indians to Eskimos

Read more: Indigenous mascots are nothing to cheer about, Cleveland Indians

Read more: Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth hasn’t used Indians nickname since 1992

Lawyers for Rogers, the Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball argued any injunction would create chaos, render the Jumbotron (already preprogrammed with the logo image) blank and, potentially, see the entire broadcast of the American League Championship Series blacked out. Fans might have to be “strip-searched” for offensive Cleveland jerseys at the stadium, they warned, to ensure none were inadvertently caught on camera.

After 3 1/2 hours of lawyers’ arguments, Justice McEwen issued his ruling and said written reasons for his dismissal would follow at a later date.

Michael Swinwood, a lawyer for Mr. Cardinal, told an assembled throng of reporters outside the courtroom that the result was not a loss, as it still raised awareness about the issue.

“It’s a win-win,” he said. “The win is having all you people standing here, and hearing those arguments.”

Monique Jilesen, a lawyer for Mr. Cardinal, told court that Cleveland could very easily wear the team’s spring training jerseys, which she said do not feature the word Indians or the Chief Wahoo logo. The court order, she said, would not cover fans. Nor would it cover most of the actual broadcast, which is provided by the U.S. network TBS. Only segments produced by Rogers Sportsnet would be required to be free of references to the team name or shots of the logo, she said. Some Sportsnet announcers, including long-time radio play-by-play commentator Jerry Howarth, have said they are not using the name.

In concluding her arguments, Ms. Jilesen told the courtroom that if “Jews, Muslims or African-Canadian people” were depicted the same way Cleveland’s baseball club depicts indigenous people, there would be no discussion.

“There would be no debate that you could not call the team the New York Jews,” Ms. Jilesen said.

Kent Thomson, a lawyer for Rogers, told court the injunction could have cancelled the game’s broadcast and delivered a “devastating impact” to countless sports bars and restaurants planning to show it and “punished millions and millions of Blue Jays fans, innocent victims.”

Mr. Thomson also noted that Mr. Cardinal was not even in Toronto, but in China, where he would not be watching Sportsnet. (Mr. Cardinal’s lawyers pointed out that Major League Baseball streams its games online in China.)

Markus Koehnen, a lawyer for Major League Baseball, said that Mr. Cardinal, and many First Nations organizations, use the word “Indian” frequently. Citing the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks, he said the word was only a description for a group.

However, Mr. Cardinal’s lawyers argued that it is not the use of the word Indian on its own that is the problem, but its use by a baseball team, in combination with the Chief Wahoo logo.

Jonathan Lisus, a lawyer for the Cleveland team, called the idea of the injunction “nonsensical,” and “absurd,” and nothing more than “censorship.”

Before the hearing, Toronto Mayor John Tory, a former Rogers Cable CEO and Canadian Football League commissioner, told reporters that Cleveland, the Edmonton Eskimos and other teams that use indigenous imagery should start changing their names, although he said a court order was not the right way to go.

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Also on The Globe and Mail

Cleveland's baseball team: A history of the contentious nickname and logo (The Globe and Mail)

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