The Michener Awards Foundation today announced the finalists for the 2021 Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism.

This year’s finalists are: CBC News, CBC Saskatchewan, CBC Saskatoon, Global News, Kamloops this Week, and The Globe and Mail.

“Despite the challenges of working in the second long year of a pandemic, I am heartened to see the number and quality of submissions for the 2021 Michener Award,” said Michener Foundation President Pierre-Paul Noreau. “The scope and depth of these investigations are remarkable, and their impacts will be felt for years to come.

“Journalists have increasingly become the target of threats and verbal abuse – and even violence – by those who no longer believe in facts. But our judges this year were inspired by these newsrooms’ dogged efforts to uncover the truth and pursue it for the public good.”

The Michener Award was founded in 1970 to honour excellence in public-service journalism. The judges’ decisions are heavily influenced by the degree of public benefit generated by the print, broadcast and online stories submitted for consideration.

“I was most impressed with the strength and variety of submissions this year, coming from both large national newsrooms and smaller community newsrooms, as well as smaller web-based publications across the country,” said Michener Awards Chief Judge, Margo Goodhand. 

Here are the 2021 finalists:

CBC News: Peter Nygard Investigations

Long before the Me-Too era, women were whispering about the rich and powerful Canadian magnate Peter Nygard. From his homes in Winnipeg, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles and a beachfront estate in the Bahamas, Nygard used power and privilege to shield his sexual predatory behaviour for decades before finally falling from grace — in no small part because of the dogged reporting of a small Fifth Estate investigative team. CBC stood alone for years in revealing the man’s sex trafficking and abuse of minors, and also ultimately revealed the systems that shielded him and others like him. It was a costly and litigious battle. The Fifth Estate team was targeted with lawsuits, surveillance, and most extraordinarily, an unprecedented criminal libel case that could have put them in prison for five years. Their investigation, and that of CBC Podcasts: Evil by Design, shifted the way the media reports about sexual trauma, and has empowered dozens of other survivors to pursue justice. More than 120 women have now joined a class-action lawsuit. Nygard has been in jail in Canada since 2020, and faces extradition to the U.S. on charges related to sex trafficking.

CBC Saskatchewan: Indigenous or Pretender

In the fall of 2021, CBC Saskatchewan published a story that sparked an international conversation about identity fraud. Reporter Geoff Leo’s 2 1/2-month-long investigation revealed Dr. Carrie Bourassa, one of the most celebrated Indigenous academics in the country, was in fact of European ancestry. For more than two decades, Bourassa had made an ever-growing list of claims about her roots, saying she was Metis, Anishinaabe and Tlingit. She rose quickly through the ranks of academia, eventually being named the Scientific Director of the Indigenous arm of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The CBC investigation sent shockwaves across the country and beyond. At first, the University of Saskatchewan and the CIHR defended the professor, but within days, both institutions changed course. Bourassa was dismissed from her role at CIHR, and the issue lives on — seven universities across Canada launched investigations and set up better policies to identify and root out identity fraud. A new national organization of Indigenous university leaders was created. As Indigenous Professor Winona Wheeler made clear, “This is theft. It is colonialism in its worst form and it’s a gross form of white privilege.”

CBC Saskatoon: Inside the failed push to make Catholic Church pay for its residential school abuses

The Globe and Mail: Residential Schools

Last summer, Jason Warick at CBC Saskatoon broke the story that the Catholic church — which had run the majority of the country’s government-funded residential schools — had paid out just a fraction of the $79 million it promised years ago to survivors. Instead, millions had been funnelled from that account to pay the church’s legal fees to lawyers and administration. And even as the church said it could not meet its fundraising goal for survivors, CBC revealed it was spending nearly $300 million on cathedrals and church buildings. A Globe and Mail team was also on the story, conducting the first-ever analysis of the Catholic church’s net assets in Canada, amplifying the voices of survivors, fighting to obtain RCMP and church records, and producing more than a dozen stories in 2021 that scrutinized the church’s financial obligations to Indigenous peoples. These two powerful investigations prompted a landslide of change, from a national apology from Canadian bishops and a renewed $30-million fundraising campaign for healing and reconciliation projects, to a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome this spring and an historic apology to survivors. The repercussions continue to ripple, with ongoing efforts to secure a papal apology on Canadian soil.

Global News: Exposing sexual misconduct among Canada’s top military commanders

In March 2022, Canada’s former top military commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance, appeared in an Ottawa courtroom and pleaded guilty to the criminal charge of obstruction of justice. This extraordinary development would almost certainly never have happened had it not been for many months of work by Global News to expose sexual misconduct in the highest ranks of this country’s military. While a report in 2015 by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps had revealed endemic sexual misconduct and a hostile environment toward female and LGBTQ members of the military, what had remained unreported was that this behaviour extended up to the very top ranks. The Global News team sensitively shared the stories of military women who had been exploited and victimized. The reporting led to the criminal charge against Vance; the removal of Adm. Art McDonald from the position of chief of defence staff; a new review by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour that called for sexual-misconduct allegations in the military to be investigated by civilian authorities (a recommendation accepted by Canada’s defence minister); and a commitment by the federal government to establish an independent sexual-misconduct reporting system for the military.

Kamloops this Week: Spending at the Thompson-Nicola Regional District

When this small independent weekly was tipped off, all in one day, that a member of the regional district council had taken paid leave, then vacation, then resigned and finally ‘retired’, they sought to clear up the confusion — only to encounter a wall of official silence. But the KTW team of Jessica Wallace, Christopher Foulds and Tim Shoults would not be denied answers to their questions. They began to pursue the money trail; conducting dozens of interviews, filing dozens of Freedom of Information requests, and ultimately creating a database that detailed five years of questionable spending of taxpayer resources. Their stories resulted in major policy changes tightening district oversight on everything from grants and sponsorships to catering and dining; the launching of an RCMP criminal investigation, and an independent forensic audit that only confirmed KTW’s findings. The journalists conducted their investigation at a time when they were pressed to cover other major stories: the pandemic, B.C. wildfires, and a federal election. If civic governance is the bedrock of democracy, then the independent work done by this newsroom is an outstanding example of the bedrock of journalism.

The Globe and Mail: Dangerous Games, Suspect Science

The image of elite amateur athletes as young people at their fittest was shattered by the Globe and Mail’s investigation, which revealed a significant number of them binge, purge and starve themselves, often under pressure from coaches and national sports organizations. The series exposed how some athletes were presented with dubious claims about “sports science” and pushed into eating disorders which took a devastating toll. The reporting was difficult — athletes were clearly afraid to talk for fear it would hurt their careers or sponsorship. But over months, journalists Grant Robertson and Rachel Brady won their trust and uncovered more than 40 cases of severe eating disorders in Canadian Olympians in the past five years. The series’ revelations sparked calls for action from athletes, parents and medical professionals and led to a series of federal policy changes. The Minister of Sport announced national sports organizations would have to sign on to a new system to handle investigations into athlete abuse. Swimming Canada changed the way coaches are trained about eating disorders. Canada Artistic Swimming introduced new policies to better protect its athletes. The series also gave athletes a voice to speak about a widespread issue that had long been hidden.

Last week, the Michener Awards Foundation announced the recipients of the Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Investigative Journalism, which went to Stéphane Blais, an environmental journalist with The Canadian Press, will focus on the environmental impacts and economic benefits of mining lithium; and freelance journalist Rob Csernyik will investigate the evolution of the relationship between gambling and suicides in Canada.

Judges for the 2021 Michener Awards:

About the Michener Awards

The Michener Awards honour, celebrate, and promote excellence in Canadian public service journalism. Established in 1970 by the late Right Honourable Roland Michener, Governor General of Canada from 1967 to 1974, the Michener Awards are Canada’s premier journalism award. The Michener Awards Foundation’s voluntary Board of Directors administers the award, in partnership with the Rideau Hall Foundation with sponsorship from BMO, Cision, Power Corporation of Canada, and TD.

For media inquiries:

Jill Clark
Manager of Communications, Rideau Hall Foundation

[email protected]