Mark Donnelly sings the Canadian anthem before Game 2 of the WC quarterfinals (Getty)
Mark Donnelly is an opera singer based out of Vancouver, but he's perhaps best-known as the Canadian anthem singer at Vancouver Canucks games. The tenor has been leading the Rogers Arena crowd in his stirring renditions of "O Canada" for years, and he's become a recognizable local figure for it. He's very closely linked to the team, listed on the Canucks' website under Game Entertaiment Performers and often touted as "Canucks anthem singer Mark Donnelly" in commercials and at other Vancouver events.
That in mind, one has to wonder how the team feels that their noted anthem singer has also decided to become closely associated with the New Abortion Caravan, a group of trucks with 7-foot tall and 22-foot long billboards adorned with graphic abortion imagery that will be driving across Canada beginning this week.
On Tuesday, he sang the anthem at their launch on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery:
As you can hear, his performance was hardly well-met.
A crowd of protesters booed and jeered the anthem in an attempt to drown him out, a scene the Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, the group behind the trucks, made sure to highlight in their press release:
Anti-abortion activists launched their cross-country tour of bloody abortion trucks on Tuesday from the Vancouver Art Gallery, amidst violence, verbal assault, and public indecency on behalf of pro-choice protestors. At the beginning of the launch, abortion advocates attempted to shout down the National Anthem as it was sung by Vancouver celebrity Mark Donnelly. One protester stripped naked while another used a bike lock to smash a side mirror from the group's truck.
[...] Stephanie Gray, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, the anti-abortion group doing the caravan, expressed dismay over the reaction of abortion advocates. "It is appalling they would attempt to censor our national anthem and resort to such violent and un-Canadian behaviour," she said.
Replace "appalling" with "exactly what we were hoping for that" and the quote is probably a little closer to the truth.
Donnelly is a practicing Catholic and his brother, Lawrence, is a priest at St. Jude's Parish in East Vancouver, so this is likely little more than an individual expression of his individual beliefs. Regardless of his or anyone else's beliefs on the issue, this is still an incredibly divisive and public stance for someone so closely linked to the Canucks to take.
After the year the team has had, it's also probably the wrong kind of attention. From Thomas Drance of Canucks Army:
In recent months, individual members of the Canucks organization have drawn criticism for their very public, and totally legal participation in events that tread somewhat on the sensibilities of a majority of Vancouverites. In April, Paolo Aquilini asked Louie Giglio to pray for the health of Daniel Sedin and in May, Canucks forward David Booth boasted about his hunting exploits on Twitter, and posted a video of him successfully killing a baited bear with a bow and arrow (that video was later removed). Guns and god don't tend to play that well in Vancouver proper, a city that leans leftward on cultural and political issues. In the country as a whole, a clear plurality of Canadians identify themselves as "pro-life" and only 27% of respondents to a 2010 EKOS poll identified themselves as "Anti-Abortion."
For an organization committed to building the most fan-friendly, inclusive, inoffensive brand as possible, this is a public relations nightmare. Donnelly just associated his rendition of the anthem with abortion opponents. And, if you want to take it a step further, some pretty gruesome images.
Picture that stuff the next time he steps out onto the ice to lead the crowd in a song.
Will this put his relationship with the Canucks in jeopardy? Should it?
If the team takes issue, Donnelly is hardly in a position of strength. Unlike Booth and Aquilini, he is neither under contract nor is he the guy that signs them.