Michener Awards Foundation announces finalists for the 2023 Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism

The Michener Awards Foundation has announced the finalists for the 2023 Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism.

This year’s finalists are: The Canadian Press, CBC/Radio-Canada, The Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette, The Narwhal + The Toronto Star, Radio-Canada.

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

This year’s Michener Awards ceremony will be held in Ottawa on June 14 at Rideau Hall, hosted by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada. The evening gala will also honour the 2024 Michener fellowship recipients and the Michener-Baxter Award for Exceptional Service to Canadian Journalism.

Here are the 2023 finalists:

The Canadian Press: A ‘predator’ at CSIS
An extraordinarily challenging months-long investigation into one of Canada’s most secretive organizations revealed a toxic workplace at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in British Columbia. Canadian Press’s Darryl Greer reported that two young female officers alleged they had been sexually assaulted by the same senior officer multiple times while in surveillance vehicles on covert missions. Other officers described a workplace where harassment, abuse and bullying, particularly of new young female recruits, went unchecked. The victims found the internal complaints process ineffective and felt unable to go to authorities because of a prohibition in the CSIS Act against identifying themselves or others as covert officers; violations are punishable by up to five years in prison. That provision meant going public posed unique risks for them and the reporter telling their story. When the story broke, immediate changes followed. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the allegations “devastating.” The agency’s director called it an “extraordinary moment” for CSIS. He announced that the alleged rapist was no longer with the agency. He also introduced new anti-harassment measures and ordered the creation of an ombudsperson’s office where officers could bring workplace complaints without fear of reprisal.

CBC/Radio-Canada: The girls around Robert Miller/Le système Miller
Robert Miller started a small electronic-parts company in Montreal in the 1960s that became an international corporation employing thousands in 44 countries. He became one of the richest men in Canada and built a world of privilege behind walls of secrecy. That world collapsed after journalists at Radio-Canada began to investigate rumours about a man known only as “Bob.” Journalists at Enquête worked for months to track down and gain the trust of women who confirmed that “Bob” was 79-year-old billionaire Robert Miller. They told of how they and other girls as young as 14 had been recruited for sex with Miller, being chauffeured to a ritzy hotel or a home in affluent Westmount and showered with money, clothing and jewelry in exchange for the encounters. Some said Miller paid them to recruit other girls. After the Enquête story aired, Miller resigned as CEO of his multinational corporation. Police reopened a decades-old criminal investigation that they had dropped. And more than three dozen women have since joined a class-action lawsuit against Miller seeking consolation for their damaged lives.

The Globe and Mail: Montreal fire safety
March 2023 fire in a historic Old Montreal building that killed seven people made national headlines and was reported by every news outlet in Montreal. Then Frédérik-Xavier Duhamel of The Globe and Mail discovered that five years earlier the Montreal fire department had secretly placed a moratorium on the kind of inspections that could have prevented those deaths. Duhamel discovered that the building had a history of violations related to evacuation routes, fire alarms, and other safety issues. The story resulted in the mayor immediately calling for an investigation by the city’s comptroller general. Months of additional reporting uncovered other decisions by the fire department to abandon certain building inspections and not uphold safety standards. In August 2023, opposition leaders at city hall ordered the fire department to present inspection results and fire-prevention strategies. The presentation showed that the department had expanded its enforcement activities throughout Montreal after the Globe exposed the existence of the moratorium. The city also announced it would hire dozens more prevention agents to inspect and fine delinquent building owners.

Montreal Gazette: Staff haunted by suicide at the Lakeshore Hospital ER
The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the crisis of overcrowded and understaffed emergency rooms in hospitals across Canada. Reporter Aaron Derfel put a human face on the crisis through a deep-dive investigation into one Montreal emergency room that a labour mediator’s report had called “a ticking time bomb.” Derfel documented the deaths, probably preventable, of six patients at the Lakeshore Hospital ER. He exposed how the regional health authority covered up the circumstances of the deaths, depriving the families of information they had a right to know. One of the patients, a retired police officer, hanged himself with the cord of a call bell after being left on a stretcher in a corridor for 14 hours. Derfel discovered that four years later, the cord was still in place, despite the hospital’s claim that it had been removed. The day the story was published, the cord was finally taken down. But the impact of Derfel’s stories went much farther. The Quebec government launched an investigation into the Lakeshore that largely confirmed his findings. The health authority announced construction of an extension to the ER. And the final instalment was used by the Lakeshore as a guidebook on improving ER protocols.

The Narwhal and the Toronto Star: Ontario Greenbelt Scandal
When Ontario’s auditor general presented her report on the Ford government’s Greenbelt scandal, she cited two newsrooms for providing her with significant new and revelatory details. Throughout 2023, the Narwhal and the Toronto Star revealed how politically connected developers benefited from buying devalued farmland just before Premier Doug Ford lifted Greenbelt protection of those lands. The Narwhal and the Star seized the public’s attention with a steady drumbeat of exclusives: how well-connected developers were invitees to the premier’s daughter’s wedding; ethics violations; the unmasking of a mysterious “Mr. X” who connected developers with government bureaucrats. The reporters persevered despite near-constant criticism of their work by the government. Their investigation culminated in Ford scrapping the plan to allow development on formerly protected Greenbelt lands and cost the government two ministers and two senior staffers. The RCMP launched an investigation. The reporting by The Narwhal and the Star, the auditor general has said, “greatly contributed to public awareness, and ultimately to the provincial government reversing its unsupportable decision to remove specific lands from the Greenbelt.”

Radio-Canada: La face cachée de Neptune / The dark side of Neptune
For over a decade, security company Neptune had been receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from federal, provincial and municipal governments across Canada to monitor sensitive locations such as courthouses, police stations and immigration detention centres. The company had even been granted federal security clearance, giving it access to RCMP offices and military bases. All these contracts came to an abrupt end after a scathing report by Radio-Canada program “Enquête” revealing that the company was being operated by people using pseudonyms and false identities, a fact that had eluded public authorities. The Quebec government immediately launched an investigation, and Quebec’s revenue agency seized the company’s accounts. Neptune subsequently declared bankruptcy, and the head of the company is facing multiple lawsuits. This reporting shows that investigative journalism is sometimes more powerful than governments in detecting fraudsters, even those who operate within the institutions that are supposed to protect us from them.

Last week, the Michener Awards Foundation announced the recipients of the Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Investigative Journalism, which went to Ève Lévesque and Marie-Christine Noël, who will lead an investigation into food security in Canada for L’Actualité. The Michener-L. Richard O’Hagan Fellowship goes to Jean-Hugues Roy and Naël Shiab to create a free online course on data journalism.