Ottawa, May 6, 1996. CBC Radio, Ottawa was the winner of the 1995 Michener Award for an enquiry into allegations of a military cover-up during the infamous Somalia affair. CBC Radio was among five finalists nominated for the Award. The finalists, along with two recipients of Michener Fellowships, were honoured both at a ceremony, and later in the evening, at a dinner hosted by Their Excellencies The Right Honourable Roméo LeBlanc, Governor General of Canada, and Mrs. Diana Fowler LeBlanc.
In December of 1992, in a military peacekeeping operation called Operation Deliverance, 900 Canadian soldiers were sent to Somalia to bring order to the chaos sweeping this coastal nation in East Africa. The region was being torn by famine and civil war. But the troops that were sent to restore order became the subject of disturbing revelations of wrong-doing, a breakdown of discipline, and a failure of leadership and accountability. It all began in 1993 with the torture and slaying of a teenager and festered on with a public inquiry into allegations that a cover-up, including destruction of evidence, was known at the highest military and departmental levels.
The inquiry, often conducted through Access of Information machinery and too often despite military efforts to block such access, led the Federal Information Commissioner to launch a Federal Court case on whether the Somalia public inquiry can block media use of Access of Information processes.
Accepting the Award on behalf of the CBC was reporter Michael McAuliffe. He was the lead reporter whose work contributed substantially to the creation of the government inquiry, a process that the Liberal government eventually closed down.
There were 57 entries for the 1995 Award. Governor General LeBlanc said that “the Michener Awards recognize not only excellence, but public benefit. And perhaps they recognize something else: such old-fashioned qualities as integrity, determination, and concern for others”. (full text of his award night address).
Jamie Swift was born in Montreal and educated at McGill University. He has been an investigative writer-journalist for twenty years specializing in resource, social, political and economic issues. A full-time free-lancer and author, he is a frequent contributor to CBC’s radio program “Ideas”, often on Third World Themes. His articles have been published in the Globe and Mail, the Montreal Gazette and other newspapers and magazines. He has authored books on mining and forestry, as well as a biography of Eric Kierans. Mr. Swift plans to write a book that “will tell the story of Canada’s fifty-year journey across the world stage, particularly as it relates to the needs of the world’s poorest people and poorest nations.” He will work with Queen’s University on his project. (Jamie Swift Michener Report)
Heather Abbot has been a senior producer of CBC Radio’s flagship news and information program Sunday Morning since 1994. She started as a Calgary Herald reporter in 1982 and joined CBC Radio Ottawa as associate producer of CBC morning in 1985. She left in 1989 as producer and subsequently became producer of Morningside. For her project she will assess the consequences of a “piecemeal retreat of the federal government from its historic leadership role.” She also said in her outline that “The shrinking of the state is a phenomenon troubling almost all Western democracies. In Canada, it’s created a tumultuous arena that touches on many areas including Quebec’s renewed sovereignty crusade.” (Heather Abbott Michener Report)
Honourable Mention: The Vancouver Sun, 1) for a series of articles on excessive distribution, prescription and consumption of legal drugs in Canada. The articles led the provincial government to ban the drug company practice of using the drug-prescription records of physicians to try to boost sales. 2) for an enquiry which led to the uncovering of the “Bingogate” scandal and the reimbursement, to 58 Nanaimo charities, of bingo proceeds skimmed by a now-defunct society directed by a senior member of the NDP provincial party.
Citations of Merit were awarded to:
Canadian Press, for a story about a disease as lethal as the AIDS virus which caused the tainted blood scandal – the Kreutzfeldt-Jacob brain disease, revealed at the Krever enquiry into tainted blood – which led to the largest recall of blood products in Canadian history.
The Toronto Star, for a series of stories uncovering gross government mismanagement, profiteering, theft, conflict of interest, and wasted dollars in the multi-million housing program for poor and middle-class Ontarians, which was cut by the current government.
The Province, Vancouver, for a series of articles by reporters Lora Grindlay and Ann Rees trying to explain why so many mentally-ill people are living in crisis on Vancouver streets. It documented the jailing of thousands lacking adequate mental illness treatment. The six-part series called “Madness on our Streets” focused on the government decision to reduce facilities at the only provincial tertiary care mental institution. Public support for the series was considerable and the government halted the reduction of services.
Michener Award Night Photo Gallery
Judges for the 1995 Michener Award:
Jeannine Locke, former journalist with the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Toronto Star; now-retired CBC film-maker; Marilyn MacDonald, former Atlantic provinces magazine and CBC journalist, former director of public relations at Dalhousie University, Halifax; Arch MacKenzie former Ottawa bureau chief of the Canadian Press and the Toronto Star (Chair of the judging Panel); Kevin Peterson former publisher of the Calgary Herald; Guy Rondeau, former bureau chief, La Presse Canadienne, Montreal.
Judges for the 1996 Fellowship:
The Honourable D. Keith Davey, Senator (Chair of the Judging Panel); Sandy Baird, former publisher, The Kitchener-Waterloo Record; Françoise Coté, Quebec author and journalist; Barry Mullin, former ombudsman, Winnipeg Free Press, now journalism lecturer at the University of Winnipeg; Jodi White, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs at Imasco Limited, Chair of the Public Policy Forum.
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.