Your Excellencies, Madame Chief Justice, invited guests,
In the past few weeks we have seen several examples of journalists putting their lives on the line to report on the events that are capturing the world’s attention.
Some of those people have paid a big price. And we have to thank them for their dedication for pursuing the events that may result in paying the ultimate price, with their lives.
Those are words from Arthur and Sandra Lang, who you have met here today as the parents of Michelle Lang, a daughter they loved, a friend to hundreds of people, and a wonderful Calgary Herald journalist and newsroom colleague.
Michelle dedicated her life to journalism excellence which served the public good. She was passionate about doing what good journalists do: push the boundaries, uncover the truth and get it right.
Michelle aspired to tell stories of social significance that have gone unreported, exactly why we are here today to honour some of best work in the media industry.
Her posting to Afghanistan as part of the Canwest News Service rotation to cover Canadian soldiers in Kandahar, although risky, was the next step in her passion to “bring home the news.”
On Dec. 30 at 4 in the afternoon, Michelle was in the second vehicle of a Canadian military reconstruction convoy travelling near the village of Hosi Aziz, when it drove over an improvised explosive device. The 23-tonne vehicle landed on its roof 10 metres away.
Five people were killed: four soldiers, Sgt. Kirk Taylor, Sgt. George Mick, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, Private Garrett Chidley, and Michelle.
In the past five months, Michelle has often been described as an award-winning journalist, as she won the 2008 National Newspaper Award for beat reporting.
Michelle never thought of herself that way. The night she won in Montreal, as always she was full of grace and humility as she spent the next hours on her cell phone, contacting friends and newsroom colleagues back in Calgary, thanking them all for helping her achieve the biggest honour in her career.
Since her death, the support from ordinary Canadians for her family, and newspaper colleagues at the Calgary Herald and Canwest News Service, has been absolutely wonderful.
I also wanted to publicly thank the Canadian military. The relationship between the military and journalists is often described as uneasy, as we each go about our tasks in dangerous areas. But we need each other, and the military has treated Michelle’s death with the utmost dignity as if one of their own had been killed, and our respect for their service and duty to country cannot be adequately described.
I would also like to take this rare opportunity to tell you a story regarding the repatriation ceremony of the four soldiers and Michelle. On the early January day in Trenton, Ont., with the wind whipping off Lake Ontario on one of the coldest days of the winter, we stood at attention for 90 minutes on the tarmac in the fierce cold as the fallen came off the plane and into the waiting vehicles. It’s a simple, but emotional, tribute that occurs every time a soldier is brought home.
Each time, Her Excellency is there on the tarmac honouring the Canadians, and taking the time in the airport hangar beforehand to comfort family, friends, and yes, even newspaper editors, moving about the room with gestures described by one senior military soldier as “those of an angel.”
This is incredibly gracious and meaningful for the families, and I would like to thank you for that.
We are very proud of Michelle, not just because she was a great person, but also because she represented the best of our craft, believing in the strongest journalism values we all would want to adhere to as we go about our daily jobs.
Michelle’s coverage and strong principles made our community a better place.
This honour will help all of us and all Canadians remember her, forever.
Lorne Motley Editor in Chief,
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
May 27, 2010