Michener Awards

June 16, 2023

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Before we begin, I would like to say how deeply saddened my husband Whit and I are by the tragic loss of life in yesterday’s bus crash, near Carberry, Manitoba. I cannot imagine the pain and grief families and friends are experiencing this morning. To them, I extend my sincere condolences. I know your community and all Canadians will support you during this difficult time. I’d also like to wish those injured in the crash a speedy recovery, and I’d like to thank all the first responders who are working to bring closure and solace to loved ones this morning. Our thoughts are with you today and in the days ahead.

I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people who have lived on and cared for this land for thousands of years. This acknowledgement is one steeped in meaning and reflects Canadians’ respect for the journey of reconciliation we are on together.

Congratulations to the winners, nominees and every journalist being honoured at the Michener Awards. It’s wonderful to see you all here today, filling the residence with celebration. How meaningful it is to renew the wonderful partnership with the Micheners by recognizing this year’s cohort, as well as the winners and nominees recognized during the pandemic. Welcome. It has certainly been a long time coming.

We are here today to recognize excellence in public service journalism.

Journalism is vital to our democracy. At its best, media hold us accountable to each other and reveal the full depth of stories both large and small. And journalists—all of you—are on the front lines, pursuing truth.

And that truth makes a difference. More so now than ever before.

Your work brings difficult conversations and issues to light. No matter how uncomfortable or daunting, we have to talk about societal challenges. The “what” and “how” of actions matter—context matters.

But so, too, does the “why.”

Last week, I was asked to comment on the recent vandalism of The Queen’s statue in Winnipeg. A statue of Queen Elizabeth the Second was put back in its original place after it was torn down on Canada Day in 2021, during a protest over the deaths of children at residential schools. The repaired statue was spray-painted with the words “killer” and “colonizer.”

This is not the first action of its kind in Canada.

For some, this statue represents a colonial past filled with hurt and trauma. A constant reminder of the pain of residential schools and the disregard of Indigenous stories and history.

For others, it represents our country’s constitutional government and our historic ties to the monarchy.

When I was asked to comment, I felt it was not my place to condemn the action of one group or to reinforce another. Rather, for me it was important to have a public conversation on how we got to this point and how we can move forward together, with understanding and respect. I wanted media, Canadians, all sides of the argument to ask: “why?”

Without context, without asking the “why”, we cannot have a conversation about reconciliation, and we cannot understand the full scope of a story.

The “why” is why we are here today. The “why” is central to public service journalism. Asking the tough questions, providing context and promoting greater understanding to local, national and international events and issues is how you create trust with your audiences. And trust is the most important commodity you have as a journalist.

Truth is precious in today’s society, especially at a time when misinformation is so prevalent, and where AI, Photoshop, deep fakes and online echo chambers are eroding confidence. The most impactful stories—like those recognized today—are researched, cultivated and validated. We trust in your reporting because you have taken the time to tell the full story and have considered differing points of view.

You are also reporting in an era where journalists are attacked not just because of the stories they tell and who they are affiliated with, but also because of who they are.

How many of you suffered online abuse for doing your jobs?

How many of you received threats and had to reassure family members that your safety wasn’t at risk? 

How many of you were told you should just shake it off, that it’s part of the job?

To put it plainly, this is unacceptable. And it isn’t sustainable.

Fear should not be in a reporter’s inkwell.

Misogyny, racism and violence are poison to progress.

Apathy and dismissiveness are barriers to the truth.

As an Indigenous woman, I’m impacted by these same challenges, and I want to work with all of you to help bring about change. 

In March, for International Women’s Day, we held a discussion right here at Rideau Hall, and we heard from some of your colleagues—women who have found it difficult to do their job while protecting themselves from harassment. Everything from intimidation to self-censoring can influence how the job is done.

It is everyone’s responsibility to inspire and encourage respectful discourse. But it shouldn’t just fall on the shoulders of those who carry the largest burden. Women— and especially racialized women—have borne the brunt of misogynistic and often violently abusive online attacks. We need allies to speak out. We need colleagues to stand up and speak up. We need employers to draw a line. Because we cannot expect others to do better if we don’t expect it from ourselves.

This is important because what you do is too important.

And who does this work is equally as important. I am pleased to see diverse voices and newsrooms of all sizes represented. Inclusion in reporting, from the subject matter to the reporters themselves, is important in ensuring that we capture stories from different perspectives.

You are more than journalists. You are agents of change, open to those around you. Through you, we can create greater understanding and respect in our society. Through you, we can combat hate. I see great hope for our future.

Once again, congratulations to the 2021 and 2022 cohorts of the Michener Awards, as well as to the 2022 and 2023 Michener-Deacon Investigative Fellowship and Michener-L. Richard O’Hagan Educational Fellowship. We look forward to your next great story.

Thank you.