The Governor General presents the 2016 Michener-Deacon Fellowship for investigative reporting to award winning freelance journalist Paul Webster for his proposal to look into the policy and practices of prison healthcare, specifically the high rate of Hepatitis C among inmates.
Photo: Patrick Doyle
The Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Investigative Reporting is awarded to Paul Webster for his proposal to research the secretive world of prison health care, specifically hepatitis C among inmates. The rate of hepatitis infection among Canada’s 15 000 federal prisoners is at least 10 times higher than in the general Canadian population. Through a series of access to information requests, extensive interviews, and detailed medical and statistical analyses, Mr. Webster will look into whether our policies and practices are indeed allowing thousands of people to die of entirely preventable causes. Mr. Webster is an award-winning freelance print journalist who has written on health issues in many major Canadian publications.
Paul Webster’s acceptance speech for the 2016 Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Investigative Reporting
Friday, June 17, 2016
Your excellencies, Madam Chief Justice, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Despite all the cutbacks and layoffs by Canadian media organizations in recent years, there are still plenty of skilful, energetic investigative journalists digging away out there.
As this gathering attests, investigative reporting remains very dynamic in Canada.
It’s on the high ground of Canadian journalism, a place populated with professionals distinguished by public-minded dedication, discipline and competitive drive.
So it came as a complete surprise to me that the Michener Foundation would award me – a freelancer for a medical journal who is probing the fate of disease-infected prison inmates, many of them mentally unwell injection drug users, homeless people, people who haven’t had the breaks the rest of us tend to take for granted — with this year’s Investigative Journalism Fellowship.
And I’m also humbled.
Because the topic the Michener Foundation has charged me with investigating concerns the fate of some of Canada’s most marginalised and least understood people.
They are members of an underclass that is disproportionately Aboriginal, impoverished, and under-educated.
At a time when Hepatitis C represents Canada’s largest infectious disease threat, its mismanagement in Canadian prisons has resulted in thousands of infected people being denied life-saving treatment that is crucial to the protection of public health.
And to the protection of all of us.
Because as many as 400,000 Canadians are infected with hepatitis.
Many of the infected are unaware.
The drug makers charge up to $100,000 to treat each individual.
Canadian prisons – where twenty five percent of inmates are estimated to be infected – are the main reservoir for disease transmission in our country.
Refusing to treat infected inmates – ostensibly because the costs are so high — flies in the face of morality and sound public health policy.
This is a story that touches on corporate ethics and government policies at the intersection of science, business, and politics.
I’m deeply grateful to the Foundation for helping me to pursue it.
I also want to thank the people who’ve helped me most in my work.
My mother, Dr. Margaret Simpson, who taught me how to write.
The late Christopher Hitchens, who taught me how to freelance.
Kelly Crichton, who got me interested in prison healthcare at the fifth estate.
My editors at the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Barbara Sibbald, Dr. John Fletcher and Dr. Dianne Kelsall
My partner Katya Willinsky, who helps me think through everything I write and do.
And my daughter Rosa Webster, who is here tonight.