It is, unquestionably, a catastrophe, and the worst nightmare for dozens of families. A bus carrying a men’s junior hockey team, travelling to a game in small-town Saskatchewan, collides with a large truck carrying cargo, and the resulting crash leads to 14 people suddenly dying. Of the 15 survivors, two will later die from their injuries, and most of the others are still in serious condition — some have permanent paralysis, some are so injured as to be unrecognizable, to the point where one survivor and one deceased were mistaken for one another.
The response to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash has been overwhelming and heartwarming: coast to coast media coverage, statements of support from public figures in Canada and abroad, even a campaign by regular people to leave hockey sticks on their porches overnight as a show of moral and spiritual support. And a fundraising campaign that has raised more than $9 million to help the victims and families affected.
It’s a nice reminder, in the face of such horror, that we are one big family.
But $9 million is a lot of money. It works out to more than $300,000 for each person on that bus. When the campaign passed the $7 million mark, it prompted a question in me: is that enough?
There are undoubtedly costs that result from this incident, whether the victim is alive or dead. Hospital costs, rehabilitation costs, costs to adapt homes for disabilities, funeral costs, psychological counselling, and loss of revenue from people who may never be able to work again. Maybe add on the cost of a memorial, or a scholarship in the names of the victims.
Some of these costs should, and will, be covered by the provincial government, or by automobile insurance. Too many won’t, because governments and insurance agencies tend to be conservative in what they’ll cover. For those costs, it’s nice to know that grieving families and suffering survivors — even if they may have the means to cover those expenses out of pocket — won’t have to worry about how expensive it will be.
Is it enough? Not enough? Too much? It’s an uncomfortable question to ask. Maybe it’s inappropriate to ask. Maybe it shouldn’t be asked.
But people should be allowed to ask it.
So I did. Kinda.
That’s $200,000 for every person (alive or dead) in the crash, whether or not they actually need it.
If only other worthy life-and-death causes could so easily generate that much cash. https://t.co/hesJdCs5d8
— Steve Faguy (@fagstein) April 10, 2018
Well, it’s not really a question, grammatically, but more of a thought for other less publicized but still devastating catastrophes whose victims won’t see nearly as much money.
Nora Loreto, a freelance writer based in Quebec City, also asked, wondering aloud whether the victims’ maleness, youthfulness and whiteness made Canadians more generous than they would otherwise be.
I'm trying to not get cynical about what is a totally devastating tragedy but the maleness, the youthfulness and the whiteness of the victims are, of course, playing a significant role.
— Nora Loreto (@NoLore) April 9, 2018
She immediately made clear that she’s not against the campaign or families getting money. She doesn’t want less for them. She just wants more for others who are in similar situations but get less media attention.
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.
— Nora Loreto (@NoLore) April 9, 2018
For that, she was called a “leftist cunt”, a “fat bitch”, and “Quebec white trash.” People told her she should die, that her children should die. The Toronto Sun’s editor wrote a column on how wrong she was. Rebel Media made a four-minute video out of it. The Daily Caller had a post on it. The right-wing Ontario Proud social media accounts have targeted her. And on Facebook and Twitter, countless warriors of outrage condemned her as a monster.
And when she pointed out the death threats and disgusting misogynistic language (about 10 tweets a minute for days, by my count), she got more hate, accusing her of playing the victim for attention.
All because she said being young, male and white made the victims of this crash more sympathetic to Canadians. For that, she deserves to die.
For the record, I don’t agree with Loreto. I don’t think maleness or whiteness or youthfulness were such significant factors in Canadians’ sympathy. If this had been a women’s hockey team, we’d probably be just as heartbroken. (Certainly one of the victims being a woman hasn’t changed anything). And if some or even most players had been black or hispanic, it probably wouldn’t have changed much either. If it had been a bus full of seniors, I think we’d be as heartbroken, if not more so.
I don’t even like Loreto that much. I’ve never met her. She’s a bit radical on the political spectrum. And she’s directed call-outs toward me in the past.
But it would be wrong to say that different people don’t get different amounts of sympathy because of who they are. The same week of the Humboldt crash, a bus in India fell into a gorge, killing 27 people including 24 children. I could not find any Canadian crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for their families. Okay, that’s in another country, but as this National Observer post points out, a two-vehicle crash in small-town Ontario six years ago that killed 11 migrant workers also didn’t generate that much response. But, of course, they didn’t play a sport that so many people relate to.
I work at a newspaper, and I know what people care about, what the media cares about, which stories buried on page 25 prompt huge public reaction and which ones at the top of the front page get ignored. The amount of news coverage and public sympathy for a disastrous event is related as much to its distance and relatability as it is to its scale.
I don’t know how much racism may have played a role. You only need to read about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country, or about the Bruce McArthur case of seven homicides of men with ethnic-sounding names in Toronto’s gay village — dating back up to eight years — to realize that victims are not treated equally. If this had been a bus of south asian immigrant kids headed to a cricket match, or a bus of Inuit kids in Nunavut going hunting, would our reaction have been the same? I honestly don’t know. We’d need examples, rather than assumptions based on our personal biases, to really make a case either way.
But let’s have this discussion. Or at least allow it to take place, even if you find it’s too soon or too raw to participate yourself.
Because I’m worried about the state of our social discourse if what happened to Loreto becomes the norm. I’m not a free speech absolutist, nor do I believe speech should be free from legitimate criticism. But I’m worried about the next person (particularly a woman or someone in a vulnerable group) who has an unpopular, uncomfortable but important thing to say about a topic who will become too afraid to say it because of the possibility it goes viral and a mob of thousands of angry people decide to pressure her employer to be fired from her job, or start yelling things at her and members of her family they can find online, or start making rape and death threats she can’t be sure aren’t real.
Freedom of speech means we need to be able to hear ideas that challenge us, that make us uncomfortable, that go against the grain. And we can disagree with those things, passionately, but rationally and respectfully.
This mob mentality isn’t doing any good to anyone. Just like you get more flies with honey than vinegar, you’re not going to convince someone to change her opinion by calling her a cunt and threatening to kill her. You’re not going to get someone to realize she was wrong by cancelling her. Making enemies of people simply pushes them farther to the other side.
There are reasoned rebuttals to Loreto’s comments (though I don’t agree with them either) that are unfortunately lost amid the tsunami of hate. If everyone responded that way, we’d all be a lot less angry and hurt, and maybe we’d understand each other a bit better, and we’d stop seeing each other as inhuman.
I still don’t know if the $9 million raised in the GoFundMe campaign is enough, not enough or too much for the victims of the Humboldt bus crash. It’s definitely better than nothing, and if we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of too much compassion. I can definitely live with that error.
But while I’m happy to see the Humboldt victims get their financial support, and hope that the government does its job so much of that won’t be necessary, I want to support worthy causes that aren’t privileged with as much media and public support. So I just donated $100 (a bit more than the average donation to the GoFundMe campaign) to the Canadian Red Cross, that helps people in need in Canada and around the world, whether they’re seniors caught in a devastating nursing home fire in small-town Quebec or people in a country you can’t spell who suffer from a natural disaster. I checked the box that gave them the power to use it wherever they feel it was most needed.
If you agree with Loreto that other victims should get an equal amount of support, I invite you to do the same. And if you don’t, I invite you to donate to the Humboldt campaign. Or if you’re undecided, you can do both. Either way, lead with your heart instead of your hate. If more people did that, maybe she would be less cynical, and all of us would be a lot less angry.