I never played hockey growing up. Hell, I couldn’t even skate. I know, it’s not exactly a very Canadian attribute, but I was an ankle-burner, full stop.
Nonetheless, hockey was still an important part of my life. I played road hockey with buddies, went to the arena sometimes to watch them play, and followed my favourite team religiously.
Hockey is Canada, and we have a portion of our identity wrapped in the cultural fabric of the sport that helps define us.
When I first heard of the Humboldt tragedy I was immediately brought back to my youth as a baseball player. We never used a bus, but we played in various tournaments around the province, traveling to different towns and cities and bonding through sport and a sense of comradery. We were a unit, a family.
Sixteen members of one family lost their lives in an instant, their souls scattered like the debris on that Saskatchewan highway, prematurely forced out of their young bodies and into the consciousness of a country. I paced my living room and tried to imagine how their friends and families must have felt. I reflected on the teammates I had as a youngster and how we battled at the diamond and bonded off the field. Then I imagined waking up in a hospital bed and being told that half of my comrades had perished.
I wept quickly and quietly for these boys I had never met, and their families. Not only was it a natural way to feel, but it felt like the patriotic thing to do.
And then the donations came pouring in.
Canadians from coast to coast to coast participated in a GoFundMe campaign for the team and the families impacted by the tragedy. At the time of this writing over 11 million dollars has been raised, an extraordinary example of outpouring from Canadians who just wanted a way to express their sympathy and help the recovery of those affected. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who did not understand the motivation of those who gave what they could; empathy, altruism, sympathy, and kindness.
Before last week, I would have found it impossible to find a Canadian capable of denouncing the intentions of the people who donated. And then, like the beginning of nearly every other discovery of heinous human behavior, I ventured off to Twitter.
That’s where this story took an unexpected turn.
Obscure writer (I can say that because I’m also an obscure writer) Nora Loreto issued the following tweet.
I communicated with Nora via Facebook after she posted one of the allegedly thousands of messages she said was inundating her inbox. Full disclosure, she and I have butt heads in the past, most notably after I was vilified by the far left for writing a piece critical of a Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder, Yusra Khogali. Loreto was part of the mob that called me a Nazi, a white supremacist, and a racist. Loreto personally appealed to The Huffington Post, asking that they apologize to Black Lives Matter Toronto for publishing what she called “a load of tripe.” I also received death threats, but unlike Nora’s detractors, my death threats came exclusively from the left.
Nobody deserves to have their life threatened on the internet. I sent Loreto a message letting her know that she did not deserve the threats she was receiving. I have received no response. But let’s be clear, despite the overreaction from lunatics in the online world, her tweet did go well beyond the realm of bad taste and had nothing to do with addressing systemic racism. Put plainly, Loreto scrawled her go-to narrative on the toe tags of the dead, claiming to know the motivations of the Canadians who donated money to help support those who lost their kids, their brothers, their sister, and their grandkids.
Her words are not just an example of bad timing, they are a crystalized example of how unhinged and vitriolic some people have become, and how they feel licensed to showcase their hatred as they cower behind the safety of the digital space. Loreto went from arrogant tweeter to victim, all while viciously attacking civil detractors and inviting more people to pile-on. Mob justice, while often disproportionate, is nonetheless familiar to Loreto who has been on the offensive side of online pillories for years.
Then, in a surreal display of media corroboration, the CBC held a panel discussion last Saturday, presumably to discuss Loreto’s tweet and the impact it had on the families of the dead, as well as the vast majority of Canadians who found her words repugnant and bigoted. But rather than a balanced panel of pundits and journalists on both sides of the issue, the show opted to feature three guests who universally praised Loreto’s words and activism, as if there was no legit counter argument against her. They seemed unable or unwilling to separate her tweet from the backlash that followed, creating a sense that if you were against what she said you were part of an overall toxic response.
They didn’t even have the depth to engage in a discussion as to how Loreto’s tweets could have been received by the families of the victims.
And now, as we begin tailing off coverage of Humboldt, the scars stitched onto our collective memories, we are also asking ourselves ‘what’s next’? Is this the beginning of the normalization of injecting race and gender into otherwise easy-to-understand tragedies and the subsequent outpouring of grief?
Jesus, I hope not.
I’d like to issue a correction on behalf of Loreto, who seems all too comfortable doubling down on her original sentiments and embracing her victim status. It wasn’t race and gender that played a significant role in the outpouring of grief and donations, it was kindness. It was a universal, innate sense of profound sadness that we communicated in the only way we knew how, by symbolically letting them know that their fellow Canadians were now part of their extended family. We gave because we felt compelled to give.
Lastly, inspired by my own sadness, I am donating my fee for this piece to the Humboldt GoFundMe campaign. Thanks Nora, for playing a significant role.