Mr. Schreyer extended a cordial welcome to Roland Michener, former Governor General of Canada from 1967-1974 and after whom the Michener Award was named. In his remarks to assembled guests, His Excellency applauded the finalists for their fine showing and urged them to continue to ensure that the Canadian communications media remain “the best in the world”. (full text of his remarks)
The first of two projects undertaken by reporter Wendy Koenig involved the field of social services in Alberta that exposed the mistreatment of children at a provincial institution in Peace River. The exposé was responsible for the immediate closing of the institution and the establishment of a commission of inquiry. The second detailed the placing of foster children with a man who had a history of violence and mental illness. The foster care stories led to an investigation and to sweeping changes aimed at improving screening of foster parents, monitoring foster homes, and the placing of children. (The Edmonton Journal won honourable mention in the 1979 Michener Award, also with a series by Ms Koenig.)
Overall, the judges were impressed by the remarkable level of excellence of this year’s entries, agreeing that virtually every one ranked as highly meritorious. It was also an indication of the growing success of the award in fostering and developing meritorious and disinterested public service in Canadian journalism.
Chum-FM Toronto, for a radio program, ‘The Pillers of Parkdale‘ that exposed over-prescribing of narcotic prescription drugs by physicians in Toronto’s Parkdale district. In one case, it resulted in the death of a 26-year old man from a drug overdose. The investigation by two CHUM-FM reporters, Tim Laing and Jeff Ansell, often working undercover, lasted six months. It resulted in applause from medical and addiction-control authorities, and disciplining of the offending physicians including the cancellation of one doctor’s license to practice.
Citations of Merit were awarded to:
The Globe and Mail, for an investigation by reporters Jim Jefferson and Mary Kate Rowan into the aftermath of a tragic forest fire in near Geraldton, Ontario that claimed the lives of seven young forestry workers. The workers were trapped between a fire line they had set and fire lines set out by other workers in a “prescribed burn”, aimed at clearing away forest debris. From their persistent digging, Jefferson and Rowan established that the real culprit was not shifting winds but lax procedures followed by the Ontario natural resources ministry. This led to a full investigation by a legislative committee and to adoption of new rules for prescribed burns by the Ontario department of natural resources.
The Toronto Star, for a story by reporter Frank Jones that led to the early release from prison and rehabilitation of Khristine Linklater. She had been convicted in the Yukon on a charge of second-degree murder in the slaying of her husband after a night of drinking and violence. Jones found many women in the area upset at the conviction of a native woman by an all-white jury because they had also experienced life with booze and violent husbands in their remote communities. Two women helped him get into jail to interview Khristine, and his deeply sensitive account of her night of tragedy won offers of help from many women in Ontario. An appeal court judge released Khristine to the care of Jones, while she awaited the outcome of her appeal against the conviction and 12-year sentence. She lived with his family for a month, spent some time in an institute for treatment of alcoholism, and also in a detention centre before the appeal court set aside her conviction, substituting a verdict of manslaughter. At a sentence hearing, the court set her free, after hearing testimony from a number of people, including Jones.
Judges for the 1980 Michener Award:
Fraser MacDougall, Founding President and chair of the judging committee and executive secretary of the Ontario Press Council; Bill Boss, former director of public relations at the University of Ottawa; Emery LeBlanc, former editor of L’Evangeline and former director of public relations for Via Rail; and Charles Edwards of Delta, B.C., retired manager of Broadcast News.
The Michener Award, founded in 1970 by the late Right Honourable Roland Michener, then Governor General, goes to a news organization. The award is the most prestigious Canadian journalism award established to give the country an equivalent of the American Pulitzer prize.