The 2013 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, June 11, 2014.
The Canadian Press published a series of stories about Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan and the problems they faced getting the federal government and National Defence to live up to their commitments to Canada’s newest veterans. Murray Brewster was the lead reporter.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to say a few words.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the judges for recognizing this body of work. Given the caliber of the competition, and the enormous upheaval in our profession in the last few years, it seems with each passing year, there are fewer of us here to fight the good fight. And I think we can all agree, in some respects, that the very foundation of what we do on a daily basis has been under assault.
We even have to ask ourselves recently about the relevancy of the National Press Gallery.
Sometimes it’s easy to despair, but when I look at the field of stories that make up the nominations this year, the tremendous challenges the lives you have touched; the wrongs you have exposed and the accountability you have demanded; it just reminds me that there will always be a place for fearless, compassionate, unconstrained storytelling.
I would also like to take a moment to say thank you to my family and the Canadian Press for allowing me to do what I do.
This award is personally gratifying to me because it says something profound for the people I write about.
I found myself in Shojah – a wild little nook of Panjwaii district in Kandahar – during the fall of 2010 with the soldiers of Charles Company, 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment. They had been beaten up pretty badly by the Taliban that particular summer, but stood their ground.
One soldier who greeted me looked straight in my eye and said: “You know, guys are out here getting shot and blown up every day and nobody back home knows about it – or gives a (you know what).”
He was frustrated, but there was also a nugget of truth in his outburst. The Canadian public – and perhaps more importantly – the political establishment had largely checked out of the war by that point.
This awards and this recognition this evening and the nomination reminds us of our duty and our public responsibility.
I was often asked why I kept going back to Afghanistan. And I used to say: Because we owe it to them to pay attention. We – the media – had a responsibility to keep writing and telling their stories, regardless of whether anyone was paying attention. We owed it to them to bear independent witness and we owed it to them to continue to pay attention now that all the flags along the highway of heroes have been folded and put away.
It took enormous courage for some of the people in my stories to come forward – David Hawkins, Bruno Guevremont and especially Kristian Wolowidnyk. It took enormous courage to talk about the possibility of taking your own life.
And I admire each and every one of them.
It took me months to get to Bruno to talk. He is the one that disarmed a live Taliban suicide bomber and how that went totally unrecognized. When his story was published, people stopped him in the street – total strangers – people who wanted to say thank you.
There is a question that I ask every veteran during every interview – one that needs no explanation to them. But I ask them: When do you know when you’ve arrived home? It’s understood by everyone who’s borne witness to war that you leave a little bit of yourself behind.
Bruno had a hard time answering that question during our interview but afterwards before he sent me an e-mail, he had to telephone me and he said: “You know – I’m not home yet, but your eloquent story and the kinds of things everyone has been saying to me have shown me the way home.”
It was a remarkable tribute, and it will sit along side tonight, at this nomination, in my heart as the highlight of my career.
Thank you very much.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 11, 2014.