The Telegraph-Journal has won the 2018 Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism for its 18-month series Sounding the Alarm.
The Saint John newspaper discovered a critical shortage of paramedics was forcing New Brunswick’s ambulances to sit idle and unstaffed. It was an issue with life-and-death consequences: at least one person died.
“There were many stellar entries to the Micheners this year — powerful work which uncovered political corruption, gave voice to the voiceless, changed laws — but none more transformative than this series,” said Alan Allnutt, president of the Michener Awards Foundation. “It was a major issue in the 2018 provincial elections and gave rise to a new government championing a wide-ranging overhaul of the ambulance system.”
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, presented the Michener Award trophy to the Telegraph-Journal in a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on June 14. The media outlet was among nine Canadian newsrooms honoured at the ceremony. The Michener Award honours, celebrates and promotes excellence in Canadian public service journalism that makes a significant impact on the public good.
“The Telegraph-Journal daily newspaper, published in Saint John since 1862, is small by many standards, with about 10 dedicated reporters and editors,” noted Chief Judge Margo Goodhand. “But its team’s dogged coverage, led by investigative reporter Michael Robinson, managed to place ambulance services front and centre as an election issue in the fall of 2018.”
The series starts with the tale of citizens being loaded into cars by concerned onlookers because ambulances (parked minutes away) failed to arrive. And as the investigation progresses, pushing past both stonewalling and misleading data, it reveals skyrocketing overtime payments, injuries and mental-health issues on the front line. In announcing its overhaul of the ambulance system in 2018, the new government cited the Telegraph-Journal’s coverage.
“This is an example of outstanding public service journalism,” said Goodhand.
Citations of Merit
Michener Citations of Merit were presented to CBC Television News (The Fifth Estate); The Waterloo Region Record; St. Catharine’s Standard; CBC North; APTN; and a joint citation to CBC/Toronto Star/Société Radio-Canada.
CBC Television News: Unbuckled — School Bus Safety
It’s a question parents have asked for decades: Why don’t school buses have seatbelts? For years, Transport Canada has claimed buses are actually safer without them. This Fifth Estate five-month investigation discovered flaws in its seatbelt ‘science’ and pivotal 1984 study which kept seatbelts off school buses across North America for more than 30 years. It constructed a database of dozens of studies and academic journals, and revealed that the school bus industry has lobbied against seatbelts to keep costs down. It discovered that Transport Canada itself concluded eight years ago that school buses with seatbelts would have prevented numerous deaths and thousands of injuries. Transport Minister Marc Garneau formed a task force to study the issue. The Ontario School Bus Association came out in favour of three-point seatbelts. And, starting Sept 1, 2020, seat belts will be mandatory on medium and large highway buses in Canada.
The Waterloo Region Record: Rubber Town
The Record’s Greg Mercer spent months investigating the toxic legacy of Kitchener’s once-booming rubber industry. He found a troubling pattern of workers who had been exposed to carcinogens and later diagnosed with cancer and other lung diseases, but whose claims for compensation were denied. Mercer used public records to show that 85 per cent of the claims for compensation were denied based on out-dated science, leaving some workers, widows and families of former rubber workers struggling financially. With rubber companies, their unions and many workers now gone, the newspaper became an advocate for these victims and their families. The series prompted Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to launch a formal review of more than 300 rubber workers’ previously rejected claims for occupational disease. Now, thanks to the work of one reporter in a small newsroom, some of those claims are being accepted.
St. Catharines Standard: All the Chair’s Men
In a year-long investigation, reporter Grant LaFleche uncovered a conspiracy to manipulate the hiring of the Niagara Region’s top bureaucrat and a secret contract worth more than one million dollars. Leaked documents, confidential sources, encrypted emails — all the stuff of a modern movie thriller. But this wasn’t fiction. The Standard’s most ambitious investigation was a textbook example of dogged, relentless, digging by a reporter determined to shed light into the corners of the region’s shady political business. Undaunted by intimidation and public criticism aimed at discrediting their reporting, LaFleche and his editors refused to back down and just kept digging. As a result, the more than 50 stories published triggered an ongoing Ontario Ombudsman’s probe into the politics of the Niagara Region, and played a role in shaping the outcome of the 2018 municipal election.
The Toronto Star, CBC News, Société Radio-Canada: The Implant Files
In collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a team formed by the Toronto Star, CBC News and Radio-Canada exposed lax approval, regulation and oversight of Canada’s medical device industry. Among the findings: devices continued to be implanted into Canadians years after being banned elsewhere due to health risks, and blanket secrecy around the public reporting of serious medical device incidents in Canada. Since 2008, defective implants have killed 1,400 Canadians and sickened another 14,000. Health Canada has approved the marketing of breast implants that are now associated with autoimmune diseases and a rare form of cancer. This project produced a database of more than 160,000 incident reports. Dozens of news and public affairs reports almost immediately resulted in the federal government announcing a comprehensive and ambitious reform of the regulatory system governing medical implants. As well, Health Canada moved to ban textured breast implants.
APTN: Life and Death in Care
CBC North: Righting the Wrongs for Youth in Government Care
Reporters at both CBC North and APTN unraveled Ariadne’s thread as they tackled the issue of indigenous teens let down by the child welfare system in 2018. They followed a thread that started with one story, and ended up exposing systemic failures.
Youths living in group homes operated by the Yukon government approached CBC North reporter Nancy Thomson with their stories of physical abuse and neglect. Her work eventually led to investigations by the department of Health and Social Services and by the Office of the Yukon Child Advocate. The Yukon government publicly apologized to the youths — and the public — for its failure to protect them, and announced a series of corrective measures.
APTN reporters Kenneth Jackson and Martha Troian showed the same determination investigating the death of a 15-year-old from Poplar Hill First Nation, Kanina Sue Turtle, who filmed her suicide while in a foster home owned by a child welfare agency. They set out to investigate the connection between the high rate of suicides among Indigenous youth — five to six times higher than in the non-indigenous population — and child welfare. APTN exposed the lack of a surveillance system to keep track of suicides in First Nations. They also showed that children’s aid societies in Ontario don’t provide the data needed to determine the number of Indigenous kids taken from their homes.
Last February, Ottawa tabled Bill C-92, aimed at stopping the over-representation of Indigenous children in foster care. But as APTN’s investigation shows, without proper data tracking, the legislation cannot deliver on its promises.
Fellowships honour investigative journalists Corbett Hancey and Greg Mercer
The two winning projects are:
CORBETT HANCEY for a proposal to produce a series of investigative articles, for print and broadcast, on the recent controversial decision, made by the Canadian Government, to allow Canadian defence contractors to sell weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian-backed rebels in the country’s restive east; and
GREG MERCER for a proposal to examine the hidden problem of occupational disease in Canada, to promote better understanding of why the situation is so under-reported and victims rarely compensated. The resulting series will be published widely in print and on media websites.
Judges for the 2018 Michener Awards:
Margo Goodhand, Chief Judge, former editor-in-chief of The Edmonton Journal and the Winnipeg Free Press; Sally Reardon, former CBC-TV producer and author; Mary McGuire, Carleton University professor of Journalism; Pierre Tourangeau, former ombudsman and news director at Radio-Canada; Katherine Sedgwick, Frontier College journalism professor and former deputy editor of The Gazette; Pierre Asselin, former editorialist for Le Soleil.
Judges for the 2019 Michener-Deacon Fellowships
Donna Logan, Professor Emerita/Founding Director of the Graduate School of Journalism at UBC; Genevieve Rossier, Directrice des communications, de la programmation et de l’éducation, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Quebec; Romayne Smith Fullerton, Associate Professor, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario and Ethics Editor at J-Source; Dean Jobb, an award-winning author and journalist who teaches in the MFA in Creative Non-Fiction program at the University of King’s College in Halifax; and Connie Monk, Program Head of Broadcast and Online Journalism at BCIT.
Recognizing outstanding and unbiased public service in journalism, the award is presented to news organizations; newspapers, broadcasting stations and networks, news agencies, periodicals, magazines and online journalism sources.