Toronto Star exposé of continued mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows wins 2018 Canadian Hillman Prize
Journalists’ persistence led to significant environmental clean-up initiative
TORONTO, March 20, 2018 – The Sidney Hillman Foundation announced today it has awarded the 8th annual Canadian Hillman Prize to the Toronto Star for the expansive and thorough investigation into the mercury poisoning of the Wabigoon River in northwestern Ontario. Jayme Poisson and David Bruser spent years demonstrating that the soil and water there continued to be contaminated by mercury, despite decades of government claims to the contrary. After filing more than thirty stories since 2016, their research, coupled with new scientific evidence, caused the provincial and federal government to re-examine the situation. As a result, the people living in the Grassy Narrows and neighbouring Whitedog First Nations in Ontario will finally get health and environmental justice.
Judges Bonnie Brown, Tony Burman and Armine Yalnizyan, prominent Canadians with decades of journalism and public policy experience, selected the winner for its significant investment in continuously driving the story until the government was forced to acknowledge that mercury was still poisoning the river, and wreaking havoc on the lives of the people who live in the affected communities. This evidence-based reporting led to a historic government-funded $85-million river cleanup and a new $5 million care home for those suffering from mercury poisoning.
“This story speaks volumes about Canada’s broken relationship with indigenous people, as well as its environmental record,” said Bonnie Brown. “The Toronto Star demonstrates how important it is to support sustained, persistent and substantive investigative journalism, especially in an era that makes such investments difficult to commit to. This investigation speaks to the important role journalists have in holding our governments accountable while seeking evidence-based justice on behalf of marginalized groups.”
The Hillman judges chose to recognize two other entries with honourable mentions: VICE News, for its weeklong series “Canada’s Indigenous Water Crisis,” and “The Price of Oil,” a collaborative effort by the National Observer, Toronto Star, Global News and four university partners.
Hilary Beaumont of VICE submitted a multi-media series that brought forth a range of perspectives in a very visual way to pressure the Liberal government to live up to its commitment to bring clean tap water to all First Nations across Canada within five years. The series prompted the Indigenous services minister to admit to a lack of progress and renew the government’s commitment to solving the issue. In the February 2018 federal government budget, $172.6 million in new funding was allocated for clean drinking water on reserves. This VICE series is a strong example of the next generation of muscular journalism, reaching a new and younger audience.
In the wake of serious injury and illness in industrial areas of Saskatchewan and Ontario, the National Observer, Toronto Star and Global News collaborated on “The Price of Oil” to expose how Canada’s $45 billion oil and gas industry operates within a culture of impunity. The series, a blueprint for a new collaborative model of journalism, exposed staggering health and safety consequences, along with a startling lack of accountability from the companies and governments responsible. More than 50 journalists, editors, students and teachers worked together to empower whistleblowers and victims to come forward with harrowing tales of infraction and injury. As a result of this reporting, the Ontariogovernment committed to funding a study examining the health impacts of industrial pollution and announced it would regulate the cumulative effects of air pollution in Sarnia’s ‘Chemical Valley.’
“At a time when newsroom budgets are shrinking and resources for investigative journalism are slim, we saw a number of news outlets come together to collaborate with scientists, experts, and each other,” said Alex Dagg, Canadian Board Member of the Sidney Hillman Foundation and Airbnb’s Director of Canadian Public Policy. “It is impressive to see news organizations serving the public interest through cooperation, not competition, leveraging each other’s strengths and connections.”
The recipients of the 2018 Canadian Hillman Prize and Honourable Mentions will be honoured at a ceremony in Torontoon March 28, 2018.
The Sidney Hillman Foundation honours excellence in journalism in service of the common good. The U.S Hillman Prizes have been awarded annually since 1950 and the Canadian Hillman Prize since 2011.
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