After Celeste Leray-Leicht lost her 19-year-old son in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, she told The Hockey News that she wanted to be "part of something bigger:"
There is so much hurt in this province in so many ways, particularly with the First Nations community. There is so much tragedy and affliction in this world and they don’t get the attention they deserve sometimes. I have no idea what this is going to look like, but I want to start a movement of some sort. People are hurting in this province with the whole Colten Boushie trial and it’s time that people reach out. From hurt can come good.
In the midst of unimaginable grief, Leray-Leicht seems to suggest that others’ pain, others’ grief, also deserve attention and empathy. The gesture emblemizes the capacity for compassion and solidarity that Canada is capable of.
On April 8, left-wing writer, activist and organizer Nora Loreto made a similar point on Twitter: the staggering amount of money (over $10M at time of writing) donated in good faith to the community of Humboldt is a lovely gesture, but wouldn’t it be nice to spread that generosity around to those who don’t have the privilege of being born white.
Many writers I admire, while condemning the attacks against Nora and pointing out the truth of her statement, have also conceded that her tweet was inarticulate or poorly timed. I’ve been thinking about how it could have been worded differently, but I’m still not convinced her tweet antagonizes anyone’s grief. It does, perhaps, confront our empathy and ask, at an admittedly vulnerable time, why it flows now, this way, instead of otherwise.
That’s a hard question, but it doesn’t make Nora’s tweet offensive, or tactless. It does make it perfect fodder for the kind of game the extreme right is playing -- and the game with which our media plays guilelessly along, sowing the ground for toxic masculinity and hate.
When I came across Nora’s tweet, it wasn’t even the first time I had seen that opinion voiced. A former colleague remarked that media coverage of the accident revealed that Indigenous victims never have the benefit of being considered innocent. It passed without incident.
Nora’s tweet, as most of Canada now knows, did not.
Since her tweet, Nora has been subjected to outrageous abuse. Her Twitter, email and Facebook feeds have been full of the vilest of insults and threats to her, her friends and her family for nearly a full week now -- literally hundreds of thousands. She has had to unplug her home phone. Publications that have hosted her writing -- including rabble.ca -- have been inundated with calls to fire her.
On Thursday, Sarah Palin singled her out to her 1.5 million followers as someone who "wasn’t sad" about the crash because of the victims’ "whiteness." An utter, disgraceful lie.
Make no mistake: there is no grief here. None. The sexist, homophobic, racist ("Nora Loreto Jew" is now an automatic search term on Twitter for reasons only Neo-Nazis understand) abuse hurled her way, the countless, detailed scenarios imagining how she or her children might be maimed, murdered or raped, cannot have the community of Humboldt in mind.
The dark corners of the internet where these threats first percolated -- 4chan, alt-Right subreddits and pro-Ford Facebook groups like Ontario Proud -- suggest another, methodically coordinated and executed plan: the opportunity to shut one of the most prominent radical left voices in Canada down. (It won’t work, you know. She’s tougher than you. When Canada’s scumbags come at her, she shines her knuckles.)
Nora is a published author and widely read columnist. She has spoken at conferences, retreats and conventions across the nation, and has appeared multiple times on national television and radio for her insightful analysis. She is a tireless activist and organizer, and one of the only English-speaking journalists to cover the recent memorial on the anniversary of the mosque shooting victims. (Full disclosure: I have worked on many projects with Nora and I count her as a personal friend.)
But Canada’s media prepared the ground for this incredible machine, intent on silencing and punishing left-wing voices; it was a system ready to go out of the box. Mainstream media’s casual contempt for feminism, intersectionality, Indigenization and other progressive principles paved the way for these attacks. Ironically, it’s the same machine that produced absolutist "free speech" superheroes like Jordan Peterson and Lindsay Sheppard.
Indeed, the same right-wing, mainstream media that was so eager to prop up Sheppard as a free speech defender, was quick to throw Nora under the bus. Maclean’s issued a statement in response to millions of requests to fire Nora, that not only cravenly failed to defend her right to an opinion, it didn’t even condemn the attacks against her, pausing only to comment that her tweet was "extraordinarily inappropriate." Maclean’s, who once queried whether Canada’s universities were "Too Asian" and proudly publishes the anti-Indigenous screeds of Scott Gilmore, could have said nothing. Instead, it threw its lot in with the mob.
The devastating Humboldt tragedy showed us the beautiful side of hockey: a game of speed, power and skill that can often reach past divisions of class and race to unite a country. A culture of resilience and determination, of billet moms and 6 a.m. practices. The same sport my mother, who turns 70 this year, played on backyard rinks in Timmins and later as captain on her varsity team in London, when an Olympic gold medal for women was a dream decades away. The same game that inspired the gorgeous, humble show of solidarity this past week when thousands of Canadians showed up at work and school sporting a hockey sweater in quiet solidarity.
But the backlash against Nora also shows hockey’s ugly side, which is Canada’s ugly side too. It’s this hateful side that is exploiting, weaponizing a nation’s grief and empathy against Nora, like it has done to so many other left-wing voices. And the mainstream media, just as it enables and incubates public opinion against any whose very existence represents a threat to the good ol’ boy ethics of Canada’s status quo, is happy simply to spectate.
Michael Stewart is the former Opinions Editor of rabble.ca.
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