The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) has awarded the prestigious Charles Bury Award to the legends of Canadian lawyers who have generously provided pro-bono legal services to help uphold journalists’ rights to report on matters of significant public interest.
“Over the past four decades, there have been dozens and dozens of lawyers who have answered late-night calls from CAJ presidents, who’ve gone above and beyond in their tireless support of the CAJ’s public-interest advocacy work,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly.
“In a time when press freedom is under attack in Canada, this award pays homage to those exceptional individuals who stand with journalists and help them ensure their constitutionally-protected rights, freedoms, and liberties are upheld.”
The critical work performed by lawyers in defending media freedom against encroachment by government and law enforcement agencies was brought into clear focus, again, this past year.
In July, for example, the CAJ, in partnership with a coalition of news organizations and press freedom groups, won a case at the B.C. Supreme Court that required the RCMP to grant media full access to the blockades at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island.
Then, in November, the CAJ decried the illegal arrest of two Canadian journalists reporting on the construction of a contentious natural gas pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia. With assistance from counsel, charges against both were later dropped.
“In many cases, lawyers have swept in to protect journalists from arbitrary arrest and against charges that should never have been laid in the first place,” Jolly said.
“Too often, police and governments have disproportionately targeted freelancers and small media organizations who would not otherwise be able to afford counsel. We are deeply grateful to lawyers who took on that duty to help uphold the public’s right to know.”
Sean Hern, a Victoria, B.C.-based lawyer who represented the CAJ and coalition in the Fairy Creek case, accepted the Bury Award, on behalf of all lawyers being honoured, at the CAJ’s annual awards gala dinner tonight in Montreal.
This marks the second time in the CAJ’s history that media lawyers have earned recognition for their work. In 2009, lawyers Paul Schabas, Peter Jacobsen, Jason Gratl, John Norris, and others, were acknowledged for their pro-bono work.
The Charles Bury Award, formerly called the President’s Award, is given under circumstances of exceptional merit to people or organizations that have made a significant contribution to Canadian journalism. The award was renamed in honour of veteran journalist and long-time CAJ board member Charles Bury, who died in February 2014.
Last year, the CAJ’s Bury Award recognized investigative data journalists, and professors, Fred Vallance-Jones and David McKie for their pioneering work in the field of computer-assisted reporting/data journalism in Canada over the past several decades in both newsrooms and classrooms across the country.
Other former winners include the late Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi (posthumously), Journal de Montréal crime reporter Michel Auger; Radio-Canada investigative reporter Marie-Maude Denis, the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, J-Source, and Massey College.