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Michener Award for Journalism

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Presentation of the Michener Award for Journalism

Rideau Hall, Thursday, May 27, 2010

Before we begin, I would like to state that the body of Trooper Larry Rudd was repatriated at 2:30 p.m. today at Canadian Forces Base Trenton. Unavoidable responsibilities in relation to the visit of President Felipe Calderon of Mexico required that I stay in Ottawa. But I wanted to begin this ceremony by highlighting the heavy toll being taken on the Canadian Forces, who are courageously and generously leading a difficult mission in the name of justice, equality and freedom, values that Canadians hold so dear. I would also like to extend my condolences to Larry Rudd’s family and loved ones.

I ask that we now observe a minute of silence in his memory.

My husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, and I are delighted to welcome you to Rideau Hall tonight to celebrate journalistic excellence in Canada, three weeks after we marked World Press Freedom Day, established in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly to acknowledge the importance of a free press in the development and preservation of democracy.

Last month, during a State visit to Senegal, while at the Centre d’études des sciences techniques de l’information, created by Léopold Sédar Senghor in 1965 with UNESCO’s help and supported by Canadian aid, I reminded those present that human rights are only respected as far as they are known. This, I said, is not the least of a journalist’s role.

Senghor was right in believing that journalists play a crucial role, as he saw them as guardians of democracy who look out for civil liberties.

I believe that is the true spirit of journalism; it requires a strict ethic of civic responsibility.

You who practice the profession know as well as I do that journalism cultivates clear-sightedness, nourishes vigilance and denounces the practices that prevent us from aspiring to the common good, or abuse our trust.

I still firmly believe that it is a profession that must fight an ongoing battle in every community, against indifference, against feelings of helplessness, against ignorance.

There is a verb I am particularly fond of, one I believe epitomizes the journalistic ideal, even more so in this increasingly complex world in which we are continuously, instantly bombarded with all kinds of information.

That verb is elucidate, which literally has a brilliant etymology and means, “to clarify.” 

There is no doubt that this desire for clarity leads to the truth that the Michener Award—named for my predecessor—associates with freedom, in keeping with its motto: “Truth in the service of freedom.”

In fact, journalism has real power only when it is used to serve the facts that lead to the truth. Only then can it touch our hearts, open our minds, and touch us at the deepest level.

This is the objective y the six finalists we are honouring today set for themselves.

Whether critically examining the construction industry in Quebec, gaining a better understanding of police responsibility in the justice system, denouncing the poor management of the largest contract ever awarded by the city of Montreal, recounting the story of a Canadian citizen who was prevented from returning to Canada, questioning the jury selection process in criminal trials, or reporting on the squalid condition of First Nations housing on Vancouver Island: the ultimate goal of all these stories and articles is to bring about change in our society, for the good of us all.

I would like to congratulate you for your passionate commitment to the profession and to the people of Canada.

I would also like to congratulate Julie Ireton, winner of the 2010 Michener-Deacon Fellowship, who investigated the challenges facing the Canadian public service.

Finally, it is with great emotion—after attending her repatriation ceremony in Trenton—that I join the Michener Awards Foundation in posthumously honouring journalist Michelle Lang, who was killed on December 30, 2009, along with four Canadian soldiers as they were travelling in the Kandahar area.

Michelle Lang wanted to report on the efforts being made by the Canadian Forces to improve the security of the Afghan people on a daily basis, and to focus on the changes being made as a result of the military presence in this troubled region of the world.

Thanks to Michelle Lang, the renowned work of the Michener Award finalists, and the determination of so many journalists who practice the profession I love with conviction, rigour, and in the public’s best interest, we are better able to participate, with clarity—there’s that word again—and awareness, in the evolution of the world we are making better through greater solidarity.

Thank you all very much!