Entertainment

Facebook group used Gord Downie’s name to sell T-shirts

Facebook has removed Gord Downie Strong, which claimed to donate money for brain cancer research, but Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre never heard from them.

Gord Downie made the Jaws shirt part of his uniform in the Tragically Hip tour this past summer.

LiveNation photo

Gord Downie made the Jaws shirt part of his uniform in the Tragically Hip tour this past summer.

“Would you buy and wear this T-shirt?”

The question was posted on a Facebook page called “Gord Downie Strong” on Nov. 6 and included an image of The Tragically Hip frontman wearing his now-famous Jaws shirt and feathered hat from the band’s farewell concert in Kingston earlier this year.

Before Facebook removed the page on Monday for violating its community standards, it was aggressively circulating the social media site as a sponsored content post, with more than 10,000 reactions, 623 comments and 758 shares.

The proceeds from the shirts — selling for $24.99 plus tax — claimed to have been donated to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research.

But Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, which has been collecting funds in Downie’s name since he announced he had terminal brain cancer earlier this year, hasn’t heard from the group and has yet to see any money.

Alexis Dobranowski, a communications adviser with the Sunnybrook Foundation, said a concerned member of the public first got in touch with the foundation about the page. Their digital team then contacted the online shop and reported the Gord Downie Strong page to Facebook.

“Our investigation continues,” she said.

The T-shirts are ordered through TeeChip, a third-party online store that also sells phone cases and mugs. The way it works is that users can upload their designs, promote campaigns and collect the profits of any merchandise sold. The U.S.-based company then prints and ships the merchandise directly to the buyers if an order comes in.

While the Gord Downie Strong Facebook page has been removed, the shirts still appear at TeeChip, which did not return multiple requests by the Star for comment. It appears the company has pulled at least one shirt design by Gord Downie Strong, which was “taken down for content reasons.”

Gord Downie Strong also uploaded what it claimed to be a tax receipt for a donation to its Facebook page.

“Dear Gene K.,” it read, “Thank you for your recent $7,500 donation to Sunnybrook’s glioblastoma research initiatives.”

The Sunnybrook Foundation confirmed that it did not issue the tax receipt.

The address listed on the receipt — 298 Robson St. in Vancouver — is the site of an Original Joe’s restaurant. Its general manager, Andrew Flynn, had no knowledge of Gene K. or the T-shirt sales and confirmed there were no other properties that share this address.

Meanwhile, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s Facebook moderator posted their own messages in response to the merchandise campaign.

“We have not been informed by the creator of this item or the creator of the Facebook page ‘Gord Downie Strong’ that proceeds will be directed to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research,” they wrote, “nor have we received any money from them to date.”

Sunnybrook also linked to legitimate organizations that are selling merchandise and have been sending proceeds to the charity, like In Gord We Trust, Gord F’Ing Downie and #CourageForGord.

To date, the Gord Downie Fund has earned $1 million in donations from various events and people.

Alex Kucharski, a Facebook Canada spokesperson, told Torstar that the company relies on its nearly 1.8 billion-person community to keep an eye out for content that violates community standards.

“Every single content page is reportable (and) that’s how we find out about it,” he said, confirming on Monday that the page had been removed.

When a page is removed, it essentially disappears. For privacy reasons, Kucharski was unable to provide any more information about who was behind the page to begin with.

The Gord Downie Strong fan page appears to have started posting on Facebook on Aug. 29 and had generated roughly 14,000 Likes.

There was no further information about who is behind the page, as its “About” section links to Sunnybrook’s Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research.

No one from Downie’s camp nor Universal Studios, which owns the Jaws franchise and merchandise licensing, was made available for comment.