Ottawa, Thursday, April 15, 2004. Montreal daily La Presse was the winner of the this year's Michener Award for meritorious public service in journalism. The newspaper was honoured for two series of reports on social issues affecting the elderly in long term care centres and patients at a Montreal hospital.
The newspaper was among six finalists honoured in a ceremony at Rideau Hall - home to Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. Philippe Cantin, vice-president and deputy editor of La Presse, accepted the award from Her Excellency on behalf of his newspaper. Citations of Merit were presented to five other news organizations (see entry descriptions below). Prior to the presentation of the awards, the Governor General said that freedom of speech and a free press were the hallmarks of a healthy democracy and added that "at its best, journalism gives a voice to the powerless, brings those who are marginalized into the wider conversation, and often leads to the righting of social wrongs." (the full text)
Pierre Bergeron, President of the Michener Awards Foundation, said the judges had a particularly difficult time this year narrowing the field down to six finalists and selecting only one of the six finalists as the winner because of the high calibre of the entries. While the judges awarded merit citations, they decided against designating any one entry as the runner-up.
Long time Canadian journalist Cecil Rosner is the recipient of the 2004 Michener-Deacon Fellowship. Mr. Rosner is bureau chief for CBC English Television News in Manitoba and also senior producer for CBC News: Disclosure. He has been with CBC for the past 14 years and contributed to CBC News teams that won Michener Awards in 1991 and 2000. He plans to write and research a book about the history of investigative journalism in Canada. Full story.
The first series of stories by La Presse drew a shocking portrait of care provided to the elderly in residential and long-term care centres (CHLSDs) that made readers shudder and resulted in public protest. The second series of articles raised awareness about the wrongful treatment of patients at Saint-Charles-Borromée hospital in Montreal: threats, mocking, and scornful, violent and sexual comments by employees. The publication of these series, to which editorials and columns were added, raised the public's awareness about the fate of the elderly and people with decreasing independence and led to a major debate on this issue in Quebec.
La Presse shed light on hidden situations that otherwise would never have been made public. The reports by investigative journalist André Noël forced the authorities to act quickly to correct the situation. The Saint-Charles-Borromée hospital was effectively placed in trusteeship and Quebec's minister of health announced the establishment of a task force to review the complaint system. And the health department now conducts surprise inspections at residential and long-term care centres. The Human Rights Commission opened 125 cases to investigate health facilities in Quebec suspected of assault against and financial exploitation of the elderly and people with disabilities.
Prior to the award ceremonies, the Governor General presented letters patent for a new heraldic badge to members of the Michener Awards Foundation executive.
The badge which borrows the strong blue and gold colours from the Michener coat of arms displays the motto 'VERITAS ANCILLA LIBERTATIS' (Truth in the Service of Freedom) and crossed quills representing print journalism and a lightning bolt for broadcast and other forms of electronic journalism.
Pierre Bergeron presented the first Michener Award medallion to the Governor General in recognition of her support for the Michener program and for public service journalism. Mr. Bergeron explained to the awards audience that the Foundation board felt that journalists contributing directly to the nominated finalist entries and to the award winning entry deserved recognition. The Michener Award itself goes to the media organization. As a result, the Foundation commissioned award medallions to be presented to the journalists responsible for the winning entry and award pins for all the other finalists.
In announcing the creation of the Foundation's new heraldic badge with its motto - 'Truth in the Service of Freedom' - Mr. Bergeron said that Canadian journalism is in very good health judging by the quantity and quality of this year's entries from across the country. He added that "honouring those who put 'truth in the service of freedom' could not sum up in a better way the work of our news organizations in our local, provincial, and national communities. The events of the last year have emphasized the importance of media as the watchdogs of good governance. It is with that spirit in mind that we will also recognize the investigative work of these professionals by giving the winners a medallion as a tribute to their excellence in reporting".
The Michener Award finalists were selected from among 57 entries representing news organizations, large and small, from across Canada.
Citations of Merit were awarded to:
CBC News (Saskatoon), for reports that proved the Saskatoon police, despite denials, had been dropping aboriginals outside the city since the 1970s. Four years ago Darrell Knight, an aboriginal man, alleged that Saskatoon police officers abandoned him in a field outside the city in freezing weather. Since then the CBC News team has made a major contribution to justice in three cases that came to light following Knight's allegations that were initially denied. Two deaths that occurred in 2000 rekindled interest in a third, that of Neil Stonechild, who died 10 years earlier. An inquiry into the Stonechild death is continuing. For three years CBC News systematically, thoroughly and effectively investigated every lead and broke a series of stories developed from information supplied by sources. In June 2003 the Saskatoon police chief admitted the allegations were true and apologized for insisting for three years that the cases were isolated incidents.
Winnipeg Free Press, for an investigation into the 10-year-old murder conviction of James Patrick Driskell. The investigation uncovered new evidence in the case and cast doubt on the integrity of the work of the police and prosecution. Driskell called the Free Press in 1999 in a desperate bid to overturn the 1991 murder conviction. Nearly four years later, in March 2003, the paper published the results of a painstaking investigation that eliminated or weakened nearly every piece of evidence used to convict Driskell. The Free Press persevered against constant pressure, obstacles, and criticism by the provincial government and Winnipeg police. The federal justice department opened a full investigation and the Manitoba government launched an inquiry. Driskell was released on bail when the judge decided that, based on the evidence produced by the Free Press, it would be unconstitutional to keep Driskell imprisoned.
The Toronto Star, for two entries that exposed abuses against vulnerable citizens and produced remedial action. One was an investigation into conditions in Ontario nursing homes. The Star assembled and analyzed databases of government information. The result was evidence of widespread neglect, mistreatment and abuse of tenants of the homes. The Ontario government instituted surprise random inspections and a toll-free hotline for reporting of concerns. The other series examined Toronto apartment inspection records and interviewed dozens of tenants in low-income housing. The reports disclosed unsanitary, squalid living conditions. The Ontario government has responded with a new disclosure system for inspections, including the posting of inspection results on a web site.
The Globe and Mail, for two series published in Report on Business. Building on a previous series, Board Games, published in 2003, looked at the quality of corporate governance of hundreds of large companies and has played a major role in the significant reform of the way major corporations are administered and controlled. A second entry reported the full range of risks to investors who buy income trusts. The series raised the questionable quality of some businesses that are marketed to ordinary investors as income trusts. It measured progress in improvements and disclosed areas of weakness such as conflicts of interest among directors and abuse of stock options. As a result, auditing standards and tax laws governing trusts have been reviewed. The Canadian Securities Administrators have introduced new guidelines for the industry.
The National Post, for a campaign launched in August of 2003 to support 23,000 war widows who were denied a widows' benefit by government regulations. The regulations allowed the benefit only to widows already receiving assistance or whose husbands died after May 12, 2003. That meant the widows whose husbands had already died were excluded. In a major feature the Post highlighted the plight of 20 elderly widows across Canada, clearly demonstrating hardship and the need for the assistance. As a result the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs called unanimously for the benefit to be extended. Just before Remembrance Day 2003, the government reversed its position and extended the benefit to excluded widows.
Judges for the 2003 Michener Award:
David Humphreys (chair), former managing editor, The Albertan (Calgary) and The Ottawa Journal and Europe correspondent, FP Publications; Arch MacKenzie, former Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press and The Toronto Star; Dr. Catherine McKercher, former Washington correspondent, The Canadian Press, associate professor of journalism and communications, Carleton University; Duncan McMonagle, former senior editor, The Globe and Mail, and former editor-in-chief, Winnipeg Free Press; René Roseberry, former news editor, Le Nouvelliste, Trois Rivières and President of the Grands Prix des Hebdos du Quebec.
The distinction between the Michener and other media awards is primarily the emphasis on the degree of arm's-length public benefit that is generated. Journalistic excellence alone is not enough. Other criteria include the resources available to the news organization an effort to level the playing field for small, medium, and large applicants.