OTTAWA, May 1, 1997 – The Toronto Star received the Michener Award for meritorious public service in journalism for a series of reports on spousal abuse and children at risk. The Star was honoured for two projects, published separately but judged as a single entry, that dealt with the issues of spousal abuse and flaws in Ontario’s child protection system. In both instances, the reports sparked public debate and prompted formal government review.
The Star was selected from among 44 entries for the award. The judges had named five finalists. Governor General Roméo LeBlanc made the presentation of the 1996 Michener Award in a ceremony held at Government House in Ottawa. The Star publisher John Honderich, who accepted the award on behalf of the newspaper, called it a tremendous honour and added “the recognition is particularly significant because the Micheners are not only given for excellent journalism, but also for bringing about some kind of social good.”
During the presentations, Governor General LeBlanc praised the finalists for shedding new light on public issues and helping to change attitudes and public policy. (full text of His Excellency’s award night address)
1997 Michener-Deacon Fellowship:
The Governor General also presented the 1997 Michener Fellowship to Michel Venne, Quebec parliamentary correspondent for the French-language daily, Le Devoir, in Montreal. He was chosen ahead of eight other candidates. The four-month study-leave fellowship will allow Mr. Venne to explore the topic “Privacy, Ethics and Democracy” and the implications for health care presented by today’s deluge of electronic and other information technologies. He will work with faculty members at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and the University of Montreal. Introduced in 1987, the Michener Awards Foundation Fellowship is to advance education in the field of journalism and to foster promotion of the public interest through values that benefit the community.
The Toronto Star’s series on spousal abuse dealt with 133 cases gleaned from court records. Working with then-assistant city editor Kevin Donovan, reporters Rita Daly, Jane Armstrong, and Caroline Mallan tracked the cases through the judicial system over a nine month period. The reports produced distressing evidence that nearly half of the cases failed because of pressure on the battered women to bear the burden of prosecution to supply most of the evidence. Changes that resulted from the series included a new domestic court in Metro and a beefed-up protocol for police dealing with domestic abuse. The eight-part series was illustrated by photographer Ken Faught and designed by Catherine Pike.
In the children-at-risk story, reporters Kevin Donovan and Moira Welsh wrote about flaws in Ontario’s child protection system which gained national interest. Facing delays in obtaining, from the provincial coroner’s office, the files on children murdered in the period 1991-1995, the Toronto Star team amassed their own sad record of the failure of established child-protection forces. They showed how children’s aid workers, doctors and other professionals failed to protect children from abusive parents. Numerous special inquiries were launched in Ontario and elsewhere.
Both projects were supported by a team of editors – including special projects editor Dave Ellis and managing editor Lou Clancy.
Le Devoir, for an inquiry which exposed plans by the provincial revenue department to amalgamate various data bases in a way threatening to invade personal privacy. Those articles, including news analysis and editorials, raised concerns among members of the National Assembly and persuaded the government to include some legislative safeguards, although not enough in the newspaper’s view. Michel Venne accepted the Honourable Mention award from His Excellency Roméo LeBlanc on behalf of Le Devoir.
Citations of merit were awarded to:
The Stoney Creek News (Ontario), for a series of articles, published over a period of four years, on the establishment of a garbage dump near the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, an environmentally-fragile area long a battleground between developers and their opponents. Stories by lead reporter Richard Leitner exposed an abuse of process by the municipal government which rezoned the site for waste disposal without proper public notice and held secret talks to negotiate royalties while publicly maintaining it opposed the project. This newspaper generated enough community interest to prolong the anti-dump campaign although the project eventually has been approved without any public hearings amid heavy-handed threats of legal action against dump opponents. Representing the newspaper was news editor Stephen Beecroft who accepted the Citation award from Governor General Roméo LeBlanc.
The Fifth Estate (CBC TV), for its coverage of Lt.-Comdr Dean Marsaw, Canada’s top submarine commander who was charged and found guilty by a court martial on five counts of physical and verbal abuse of his crew members aboard the sub Ojibwa between 1991 and 1993. He was stripped of his rank and dismissed from the navy. CBC’s program ‘On the Beach’ proved “incontrovertibly” that the naval officer was the victim of a frame-up by a jittery military establishment and a skewed justice system. The Citation was accepted by producer Michelle Metivier on behalf of the fifth estate.
The Evening Times-Globe, Saint John, New Brunswick, for a series of articles on sexual harassment happening in four New Brunswick police forces which brought the provincial government to react with an emergency inquiry that has produced an 18-page anti-harassment policy.
Judges for the 1996 Michener Award:
Françoise Côté, author and journalist, Montreal; 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, communications consultant, Halifax; Arch MacKenzie, former Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press and The Toronto Star (Chair of the Judging Panel); Kevin Peterson, former publisher of the Calgary Herald.
Judges for the 1997 Fellowship:
David Humphreys, Public Affairs Consultant, Ottawa; former Senior Editor, Calgary Albertan, Ottawa Journal, FP Publications, Globe and Mail; Duncan McMonigal, Winnipeg, former Editor-in-Chief, Winnipeg Free Press; Guy Rondeau, former Bureau Chief, La Press canadienne, Montreal; Shirley Sharzer, Ottawa, former journalist, Toronto Telegraph, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail; Jodi White, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs at Imasco Limited; Chair of the Public Policy Forum (Chair of the Judging Panel).
The Michener Award is unique because of its emphasis on the impact of the journalism for the public good, plus recognition of the resources available to the entrant in an effort to put smaller and larger organization on a more equal footing.