By Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press
Some families of Humboldt Broncos bus crash victims are surprised to learn that error-riddled obituaries of their loved ones have been posted on a website that’s selling flowers, as well as online memorial candles, and that the site isn’t donating the money.
Eleven of the 16 people who died when the Saskatchewan Junior A hockey team’s bus collided with a semi on April 6 are listed on the Everhere website, which calls itself one of North America’s largest databases for obituaries.
But Russell Herold, whose 16-year-old son, Adam, died in the tragedy, says his family never agreed to post the information, which incorrectly lists his son’s place of death as Wolseley, Sask., east of Regina.
That’s approximately 300 kilometres south of where the crash occurred.
“We never gave them permission. It’s obvious when the birthplace and place of death are wrong,” Herold said in an email.
The site’s obituary for Dayna Brons, the team’s athletic therapist, states the 24-year-old died in Lake Lenore, Sask., which was where she went to school, not where she died.
“It makes me a little uncomfortable that they’re profiting off it without permission of the families,” Eric Brons, Dayna’s brother, says.
Everhere did not respond when contacted by The Canadian Press on the weekend.
On its website, the company states it “serves to inform the public of obituaries that are already on the Internet by categorizing them by city.”
It says families can share the obituaries online to invite people to the funerals, which it says saves time for grieving families during a difficult time.
“There is no obligation for anyone to purchase anything from our website. It is just there so people have the option and to make things simpler for those who wish to send flowers, as flower orders are automatically sent to the closest local florist of the recipient,” the website states.
“The candles are a religious intention. We offer the service if someone would like to light a candle as an act of love towards that family,” the site says, noting that fees for lighting a candle go “towards the development of our company, since our company provides our online services for free.”
The site says errors can be corrected, or obituaries removed, by contacting the company.
A lawyer in Newfoundland and Labrador, Erin Best, said earlier this year that she was attempting to certify a class-action lawsuit before the Federal Court of Canada against an obituary website, Afterlife Network Inc.
A statement of claim, which has not been proven in court, alleges the site contains hundreds of thousands of obituaries and photographs copied without permission from the websites of Canadian funeral homes and newspapers, and that it generates revenues by advertising and permitting users to “light virtual candles and send flowers.”
The Jan. 11 document says the reproductions infringe copyright, and that Afterlife hasn’t sought permission from the copyright holders.
The website for Afterlife now redirects to Everhere.
Dan Pollack, a copyright lawyer in Toronto, says copying obituaries and reproducing them verbatim without permission, along with photographs, could be a copyright infringement issue. But he says that if the obituaries just give biographical information about the individuals, such as when they were born or when they died, that would probably not constitute copyright infringement.
None of the obituaries for people killed in the Humboldt Broncos crash contain photographs.
But Pollack says that doesn’t mean the obituaries aren’t problematic.
“Getting beyond all of the nitty-gritty of the legal issues, you’re talking about things that are incredibly sensitive and there really could be substantial backlash if it’s seen that this site is somehow profiting from this tragedy,” Pollack says.
The Funeral Service Association of Canada says in a statement that it opposes the practice of using information in online obituary sites without the specific permission of families.
“This is an intrusion into a grieving family’s privacy and appears to have a commercial overtone,” the statement on Sunday said.
The organization encourages families to contact their provincial funeral service regulator, or the Funeral Service Association of Canada for assistance if they encounter such incidents.