Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to present to you the representatives of the Vancouver Sun, which has been judged the winner of the seventh annual competition for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.
The judges of the competition were Messrs. Fraser MacDougall, Yves Jasmin and Bill boss.
In their report, the judges wrote that they had chosen the Sun for the award “for the tenacity and skill with which John Sawatsky, a reporter in the newspaper’s Ottawa bureau, encouraged and supported by management, during a long period of time probed and finally assembled the facts surrounding illegal activities by Canadian police and the police forces’ concealment of such activity from their political superiors.”
The judges’ report continued:
The Vancouver entry, though, impressed the judges because the story was developed by a management and a reporter, separated by thousands of miles, developing an obvious story that was being ignored by all media of the immediate area, It was December 7th, 1976 before the Sun was in a position to publish the narrative it had been putting together ever since Corporal Robert Sampson of the RCMP disclosed at his trial on charges connected with a Montreal bombing that much of his police career had been spent breaking the law – on orders – and that he was just one of several who had been doing so.
As an example, he said, he was one of several policemen from three forces that three-and-a-half years earlier had burgled the offices of the left-wing Agence de Presse Libre du Quebéc.
On the record already were denials by then Justice Minister Jérôme Choquette of Quebec to allegations by the news agency that it was the police who had committed the break-in. There had been an eloquent silence in the Ottawa office of the Solicitor-General Jean Pierre Goyer to which the agency had also protested.
Sawatsky in Ottawa, backed by Managing Editor Bruce Larsen, started digging into the story, which the rest of the media, especially the “national level” elements, were passing up.
There were, no doubt, many assignments the Vancouver Sun would have liked from its man in Ottawa during that period. Probably there were times when it was beaten by its immediate competition on Ottawa stories of west coast interest because Sawatsky was patiently piecing together the facts of the RCMP’s criminal activities and of its cover-up implications that ultimately put in question the integrity of its chief officers and even of the crown.
This was a story of national importance. It involved the very foundations of the Canadian system – respect for law and order by those sworn to uphold them on behalf of us all. Only the Vancouver Sun, of all the media before whom that same set of clues was paraded, saw the story in that light and tracked it down relentlessly.
It is the dimension of distance between the principals in this piece of reporting, of the great trust that exists between them, of their sacrifice of more transient stories to concentrate on documenting a blockbuster in the national interest, that led the panel to decide that, on the evidence before it, the Vancouver Sun is the publishing medium that performed the most outstanding example of disinterested meritorious public service in journalism during 1976.
The judges also decided that an honourable mention in the Michener Award competition should go to the London Free Press for a series by reporter Wendy Koenig. The judges wrote concerning this series:
The London Free Press is considered to have performed an exceptional service to its readership by publishing a series of articles about the city’s skid row district that, by increasing public awareness of the problem and of the dedication shown by those trying to cope with it, led to changes of policy and budget. As well, Ms. Koenig, a sensitive writer, has a knack for making facts and research readable, which her editors gave her plenty of space to display.
And now, Your Excellencies, I have pleasure in presenting to you, to accept the 1976 Michener Award for the Vancouver Sun, Mr. John Sawatsky and his managing editor, Mr. Bruce Larsen.
National Press Club of Canada
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
October 7, 1977.