04/18/2018 13:02 EDT | Updated 04/19/2018 10:44 EDT

We Mourned Humboldt Differently Than Other Tragedies. Let's Talk About That

The identity of the Humboldt Broncos victims helps explain why Canadians have rallied around them to an extent unseen for any other community.

The tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash has rightfully shaken many people across Canada. Popular folklore would present us as a "hockey nation," one where our national sport forges bonds that transcend our differences. The outpouring of support toward the bereaved is understandable and historic. Parents who see their children off on buses en route to sporting events expect them to return home safely. This truth is a major factor behind the collective sympathy offered to the prairie families that have lost their loved ones.

It is not, however, the sole factor. As Quebec City writer and organizer Nora Loreto pointed out in a Twitter thread on April 8, "The maleness, the youthfulness and the whiteness of the victims are ... playing a significant role. I don't want less for the families and survivors of this tragedy. I want justice and more for so many other grieving parents and communities."

Loreto's tweets were a response to news that a GoFundMe for the families of the victims had raised $4 million after having started off a few hours earlier with a $10,000 goal. That number has since risen to more than $12 million, making it the most successful GoFundMe campaign in Canadian history.

POOL New / Reuters
Photos of people involved in a fatal bus crash are seen before a vigil at the Elgar Petersen Arena, home of the Humboldt Broncos, in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, on April 8, 2018.

One of Loreto's tweets was isolated from her thread, and garnered a flood of public and private responses, including thousands of death threats, wishes of bodily harm and misogynistic insults. It has solicited the ire of conservative front groups such as Ontario Proud, and of Jason Kenney, the leader of the United Conservative Party in Alberta.

Others have set out on a mission to get her fired, despite the fact that she is self-employed. Some even went so far as to target her family and young children. As Loreto later noted, if nothing else, this "highly sophisticated campaign is meant to warn all of us that we are in danger if we write about [systemic racism]." As outlined by the publisher of Briarpatch magazine, David Gray-Donald, Loreto's tweet was sent into viral internet infamy by an organized campaign, which then focused on attempting to discredit and destroy her by willfully distorting her words.

Sharing the earlier version of this article you're reading on my Facebook timeline garnered a fair bit of scorn as well. Nothing that comes remotely close to what Loreto has endured, but still, my mother had to read internet strangers say that she should have had an abortion. Despite the 700 comments that mostly consisted of insults and rage from strangers, the exchange also allowed for deeper reflections on the hypocrisy behind most of the backlash to her tweets.

Can we genuinely imagine that a hypothetical tragedy involving racialized teenagers ... would have received a similar treatment?

As a friend noted in the thread, "For some this is an occasion for 'national unity,' yet in the next breath they rail against the 'politicization of tragedy.' National unity is political. The very idea that we, as Canadians, should be caught up in an emotional firestorm over this particular tragedy because we are Canadians and 'the whole nation mourns as one' is a political idea. So what these people really mean is that their politics are okay, but these peoples' aren't."

And like clockwork, political conservative activist Ezra Levant is exploiting and misconstruing Loreto's tweets in order to get people to dish out cash to subscribe to his "Premium Content show." Levant has gotten some push back for this move, but nowhere near the massive indignation that Loreto received, because again, "their politics are okay." CBC Opinion Producer, Robyn Urback, even went so far as to suggest that Levant and Loreto are two sides of the same coin.

Loreto has been accused of attempting to be "edgy" in order to garner greater notoriety as a writer and commentator, but is her analysis that extreme? Can we genuinely imagine that a hypothetical tragedy involving racialized teenagers returning home from a badminton tournament or some other sporting event that is less esteemed in our national consciousness would have received a similar treatment?

It certainly would garner sympathy, and people would very likely talk about it for a day or two around the watercooler at work, but do we believe more than 100,000 people would have raised more than $8 million in four days? Frankly, I'm not even so sure the death of a team of young Northern Indigenous hockey players would.

USA Today Sports / Reuters
The Humboldt Broncos' logo is displayed on the ice and scoreboard during a moments silence in tribute to the team before a game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on April 7, 2018.

It wasn't so many years ago that 10 migrant workers were killed in a bus accident in rural southern Ontario. There was no national campaign then, no major fundraiser and the three survivors had to fight to be able to stay in Canada.

Naturally, fundraising is not the only means by which we can rally around communities or measure our willingness to repair deep wounds, but there are some glaring inequities if we examine that metric alone.

A fundraiser for the families and survivors of the 2017 Quebec mosque shooting amassed a pittance of what the Humboldt Broncos GoFundMe has raised. The crowdfunding campaign for the family of Pierre Coriolan, a black man murdered by Montreal police, has reached less than 50 per cent of its $20,000 goal to help the family cover the legal costs of seeking justice for their loved one.

What of the 47 victims of the Lac Mégantic explosion, or the 32 seniors who perished in the 2014 L'Isle-Verte nursing home fire? Not to mention the families of the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

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Loreto's analysis does not diminish or besmirch the memory of the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. It simply raises some important questions. Namely, why do we rally around certain communities in times of tragedy as opposed to others? Is it beyond the scope of possibility that part of the answer is the identity of the victims and how it consciously or subconsciously influences our feelings and actions? What does it say about our country that such reflections are met with (primarily male) violence and rage? Do people fear that admitting there is some truth to the claim may make them "a racist," as though racism were a binary and not a spectrum?

What will it take for us to be able to express such concerns without fear of being attacked and harassed by a legion of regressive, "I don't see colour" patriotic Canadian chest-thumpers? What can we do to make acts of solidarity the norm in these situations of mourning, and not solely a gift reserved for traditionally whiter Canadian communities?

Let me conclude by being as explicit as Loreto was: the survivors and victims of this crash deserve every ounce of compassion and solidarity they have received. May other grieving families and communities one day be as supported, or at the very least seen.

An earlier version of this text appeared on Medium and The National Observer.

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