In March 1976, Robert Samson, a member of the RCMP Security Service, went on trial for charges arising from the bombing of a supermarket executive’s residence. During this trial, Samson disclosed he had been involved in other questionable activities for the RCMP besides the bombing incident, that much of his police career had been spent breaking the law – on orders from his superiors – and that he was just one of several who had been doing so. Following the trial, John Sawatsky worked with managing editor Bruce Larsen to develop several stories exposing decades of RCMP involvement in illegal activities including arson, break-ins and theft. But it wasn’t until the 7th of December, 1976, that The Sun was in a position to publish its first story implicating the upper echelons of the RCMP in the cover-up of its illegal activities – the implications of which ultimately put in question the integrity of the RCMP’s chief officers and even ministers of the crown.
The jury praised the newspaper and John Sawatsky specifically, for pursuing with “tenacity and skill – the facts surrounding illegal activities by Canadian police and the police forces’ concealment of such activity from their political superiors”. The jury further concluded that this was a story of national importance involving the very foundations of the Canadian legal system – respect for law and order by those sworn to uphold them on behalf of all Canadians.
In his remarks to those in attendance at the award presentation, Ludovic Hudon, secretary of the National Press Club, commended the Sun for its relentless investigation of a story which “the rest of the media, especially national level elements, were passing up”. (full text)
Honourable Mention: The London Free Press, for a series of articles on London’s skid row district. The judges said the newspaper performed an exceptional service for its readership by raising public awareness about the plight of the homeless and disadvantaged living on skid row and the dedication shown by those trying to cope with it. The reporter on the story, Wendy Koenig, was commended for translating her facts and research into a readable, sensitive portrayal of life in the soft underbelly of urban society.
Judges for the 1976 Michener Award:
Fraser MacDougall, chair of the judging panel, former Canadian Press executive and now executive secretary of the Ontario Press Council; Yves Jasmin, assistant secretary general of Communications at the National Museum of Canada; Bill Boss, director of public relations at the University of Ottawa.
The Michener Award, founded in 1970 by the late Right Honourable Roland Michener, then Governor General, goes to a news organization. The judges’ decisions are heavily influenced by the degree of public benefit generated by the print and broadcast projects submitted for consideration.