Ottawa, April 30th, 2002. The Kitchener-Waterloo Record was the recipient of the 2001 Michener Award for public service journalism for uncovering serious misuse of public funds in municipal lease financing.
Pierre Bergeron, President of the Michener Awards Foundation, said the winning entry represented persistent digging and total commitment by the paper over eight months. Reporter Kevin Crowley accepted the award on behalf of the Record.
The Vancouver Sun received Honourable Mention for a series about the disappearance of women from Vancouver’s east side. The Record and The Sun were among six finalists honoured in a ceremony at Rideau Hall this evening.
The ceremony was hosted by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. She praised the work of the finalists and said: “The Michener Awards are distinguished from other media awards, because they emphasize the arms-length public benefit that is generated by journalistic work. It is this emphasis on the public good that is a very important part of the Michener Award”. (the full text)
The Governor General also presented the 2002 Michener-Deacon Fellowship to Pierre Duchesne, a journalist with the Radio-Canada Television program, Zone Libre. The Fellowship provides $22,500 to a mature journalist for a four-month study. Mr. Duchesne will use the Fellowship to complete the third volume of his unauthorized biography of former Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau. This volume will address the most important period of Parizeau’s political life from 1985 to 1995. Full story.
The Record began by investigating a too-good-to-be-true financing deal for a city park. The Record editorial staff, lead by business reporter Kevin Crowley, persevered in cutting through the complex web of lease financing. It turned out that municipal politicians and employees authorized contracts they didn’t understand. The costs were nearly $500 million more than they expected. The paper entered 11 reports, 12 editorials and an editorial cartoon.
The repercussions were felt in other Ontario municipalities. The Record’s reports resulted in audits, municipal investigations and multi-million dollar lawsuits against MFP Financial Services Ltd. The Ontario government has drafted new legislation to protect municipal taxpayers.
Mr. Bergeron noted that the Michener Award is presented for meritorious public service in journalism, with particular reference to the public benefits generated by the entry and the resources available to the news organization. He said there was a tight race this year among several deserving finalists, particularly between the winner and the runner-up entry, The Vancouver Sun, which received the Honourable Mention certificate.
The Vancouver Sun: for an 11-part series by reporters Lindsay Kines, Kim Bolan and Lori Culbert, published between September and November 2001, about the disappearance of women from Vancouver’s east side. The reports examined the investigators’ lack of progress in solving what may be Canada’s biggest serial murder case and raised the number of women, missing and presumed murdered, from 27 to 45. They described laxness in the Vancouver police department’s investigation and disclosure practices, the lack of a compatible computerized database on sexual predators, and deficiencies in the storage of DNA. The series resulted in the establishment of a joint RCMP-Vancouver Police Task Force, with additional staff and resources. For the first time the police met with the families of the missing women.
Citations of Merit were presented to:
CBC News, The National: for Trail of a Terrorist, a detailed story about the life in Canada of convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam. The Algerian came to Montreal, was allowed to apply for refugee status, lived on welfare, obtained a false Canadian passport, travelled to Afghanistan for terrorist training and returned to Montreal. All this before he was eventually arrested by United States Customs trying to enter the U.S. with equipment to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the Millennium. Former Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan said Ressam could not be deported because the Canadian government could not get “travel papers” for him. The documentary had significant impact in Canada and the United States.
The Canadian Press: for a series of stories on conditions in women’s prisons. CP reporters interviewed prisoners, staff, advocates, and experts at prisons in four provinces. Five years after the critical report of Justice Louise Arbour on the treatment of women offenders, the series found some of the main recommendations were not implemented. Maximum security inmates, some with mental problems, were being held in long-term isolation in men’s prisons. In some respects conditions had deteriorated. After the series ran in newspapers across the country, advocacy groups launched a human rights challenge, protesting the conditions of women in security. Other media picked up the story. Improvements in the conditions have been noted.
The Toronto Star: for Medical Secrets which was the theme of a series about a lax Ontario medical regulatory system that failed to hold doctors accountable for practices harmful to patients. Finding no database existed of disciplinary cases since 1994, the paper created one. There was significant public response. Complaints against doctors were handled routinely by the College of Physicians and Surgeons behind closed doors unless they resulted in discipline. One doctor’s licence was never revoked after two disciplinary actions involving the deaths of two patients. Another doctor was allowed to continue to practice, despite numerous complaints documented by the Star. A class-action lawsuit has been launched against the doctor. The series resulted in a shakeup at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The established its own database of disciplinary cases. The Ontario government launched a legislative review with a view to improved transparency and accountability.
Winnipeg Free Press: for two entries, each a series about the plight of children on Winnipeg streets. One tackled child prostitution, a growing problem that has been generally ignored or unrecognized. In the four-part series, the children, police, school employees and advocates were interviewed. The result was a police sweep of child prostitutes and johns, plans for the city’s first safe house, and a move to increase the age of consent. The other series concentrated on young people involved in drug dealing, panhandling and squeegee activity. The stories shed light on the kids’ backgrounds and why they are on the streets.. The series presented a prescription for remedial action by families and agencies charged with helping them.
Judges for the 2001 Michener Award:
Senator Joan Fraser, former editor, The Gazette, Montreal; David Humphreys (chair), former managing editor, The Albertan and The Ottawa Journal; Arch MacKenzie, former Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press and The Toronto Star; Duncan McMonagle, 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 Michener Award is presented annually to news organizations whose work has a major effect on public policy or the lives of Canadians. The Award is given to a news organization rather an individual. Print and broadcast and published online media of any size are eligible. Special consideration is given to the news resources available to the entry.