Humboldt cartoon stolen for T-shirt and chance 'to grab some free cash'

Halifax editorial cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon drew a tribute to Canadian support for the Humboldt Broncos. It was quickly stolen and being sold on T-shirts without his permission.

Bruce MacKinnon's editorial cartoon was being sold on shirts on Redbubble.com for as much as $42

This T-shirt, which features Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon, was being sold on redbubble.com for $42.63. (redbubble.com)

A long-time editorial cartoonist for the Halifax Chronicle Herald newspaper says he's livid a T-shirt company stole artwork he made about the Humboldt Broncos to sell T-shirts.

Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon appeared in the paper and on its website April 12. It showed Canada's provinces represented as hockey players holding up an injured Saskatchewan player. While the cartoon was widely shared on social media, it also turned up on a T-shirt being sold at Australia-based Redbubble.com — some for as much as $42.63.

"To steal someone's art and at the same time basically capitalize on this tragedy, on the misery of other human beings, is unconscionable," MacKinnon told CBC Radio's Mainstreet Tuesday.

The Humboldt Broncos Junior A hockey team was on its way to a game April 6 when the bus carrying the team and its staff collided with a semi-trailer. Sixteen people were killed in the crash and 13 people were injured.

​"I think people just sort of see this outpouring of support for the victims of this tragedy, and they know people are opening up their hearts but also their wallets, and they just see an opportunity to grab some free cash," said MacKinnon.

MacKinnon said he found out about the shirts after getting an email from a woman from Saskatchewan Sunday.

"Right away I was pretty upset about that," MacKinnon said, adding that nowhere on the page did it mention anything about profits going to the victims or their families.

Fans of the cartoonist told MacKinnon they tried to inform the website the cartoon was stolen. He said the shirts were removed from the website once the newspaper threatened legal action against Redbubble.com.

The cartoon is meant to show the outpouring support from the country, MacKinnon said.

"Whether it's the GoFundMe campaign or the hockey sticks being put outside and that kind of thing, people were just really searching for a way to show their support which is common in tragedies like this," MacKinnon said. 

"Canadians tend to come together as a community, and they want to do something about it, so that was what the cartoon was essentially showing is a hockey metaphor."

Redbubble.com responds

CBC News contacted Redbubble.com, which continues to sell other Humboldt material, for a response. The company said any profits received by independent artists related to a tragedy, whether local or global, are donated to charity for the benefit of victims and their families.

"Redbubble has invoked this policy for prior tragic events throughout the years, and over $50,000 has been donated to charity. We will announce the amount of the [Humboldt] donation and charity through our Twitter feed," chief marketing officer Jorie Waterman via email Tuesday night.

"Our deepest sympathy goes out to all those affected by this tragic accident."

With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet and Kayla Hounsell