Patti Sonntag, Robert Cribb, Mike De Souza, Carolyn Jarvis, Elizabeth McSheffrey, P.W. Elliott | Hillman Foundation

2018 Honourable Mention

Patti Sonntag, Robert Cribb, Mike De Souza, Carolyn Jarvis, Elizabeth McSheffrey, P.W. Elliott
The National Observer, The Toronto Star, Global News, the Corporate Mapping Project, and four Canadian universities

Michener Fellow Patti Sonntag, Robert Cribb of The Toronto Star, Mike De Souza of National Observer, Carolyn Jarvis of Global News, Elizabeth McSheffrey of the National Observer, and P.W. Elliott of the University of Regina

Additional authors include: Emma McIntosh (Staff reporter, Toronto Star), Sawyer Bogdan (student, Ryerson University School of Journalism), Morgan Bocknek (student, Ryerson University School of Journalism), Robert Mackenzie (student, Ryerson University School of Journalism), Sean Craig (reporter, Global News), Sandra Bartlett (associate producer, Global News), Trevor Grant (instructor, University of Regina), Trevor Owens (director of photography, Global News), Scott Newman (video editor, Global News), Chris Jeri (lead graphic designer, Global News)

In the wake of serious injury and illness in industrial areas of Saskatchewan and Ontario, the National Observer, Toronto Star, Global News and four Canadian universities collaborated on “The Price of Oil” to expose the environmental infractions imposed on Canadians by Canada’s $45 billion oil and gas industry. 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 from four journalism schools, three media outlets and a think tank worked together to empower whistleblowers and victims to come forward with their stories.

In Ontario, teams spent months creating a database of more than 500 incident reports of chemical leaks and spills in Sarnia’s ‘Chemical Valley.’ They connected the dots between their frequency and severity and found that several incidents exposed the public to dangerous chemicals, including cancer-causing toxins, but residents were never warned.

Caught in the middle of this toxic circle is the small First Nation of Aamjiwnaang, whose calls for environmental justice have long gone unanswered. In the face of extreme pressure to remain silent, and fear of losing their jobs, members spoke candidly about loved ones dying of cancer, of illness they believe is linked to pollution, and concerns about premature death because of where they live.

As a result of this reporting, the Ontario government committed to funding a study examining the health impacts of industrial pollution in the region — a study the community had requested in vain for 10 years. The series drove two weeks of debate in Ontario’s legislature, marked by calls for action and declarations of environmental racism as the Aamjiwnaang suffered. Long-demanded regulations for sulphur dioxide — which hadn’t been updated in 43 years — were introduced and, after an eight-year delay, the government announced it would finally regulate the cumulative effects of air pollution in Sarnia’s ‘Chemical Valley.’

In Saskatchewan, The Price of Oil constructed a timeline of oilpatch leaks and spills, zeroing in on a toxic and sometimes fatal gas called hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Over five years, the findings revealed a disturbing trend of regulatory infractions, botched safety audits, mysteriously unreported incidents, ignored safety protocols, and leaks resulting in serious injury or illness for both workers and unsuspecting members of the public. The team learned that in July 2015, Saskatchewan regulators who proposed cracking down on H2S emissions were fired or shuffled to new positions, and despite multiple injuries and a fatality, not a single fine has been issued to an oil company in the past decade. Over several trips into the field, armed with air-monitors, teams further discovered that H2S is still leaking from a number of operations today — unchecked and unmitigated by several companies.

This series broke a long-held silence within oil-dependent rural communities, as people began posting their own experiences on social media, many for the first time. Empowered and vindicated by the series’ findings, more whistleblowers came forward, including former oilpatch worker Jeff Crawford, who nearly died of H2S exposure in 2014 and now lives with permanent disability. The Price of Oil kept digging and learned that in addition to placing Crawford in an unsafe situation against rules governing H2S, Crawford’s employer never disclosed the incident to provincial regulators. As a result of this reporting, the government has issued a notice of contravention against the company.

Despite repeated refusals from industry and government officials to comment on the record, the National Observer, Toronto Star, Global News and the university journalism programs broke through a culture of silence and fear surrounding the oilpatch that has gone unchallenged for years. The work empowered whistleblowers and victims to come forward with harrowing tales of infraction and injury and provided a voice for marginalized communities — including a First Nation — living in the shadow of industrial giants.

Patti Sonntag is a managing editor in The New York Times’ News Services division, directing a team of editors and writers producing dozens of news and opinion content streams for a global readership. A recipient of the Michener Fellowship in Journalism Education, she has been serving as series producer on “The Price of Oil.”

Robert Cribb is an award-winning investigative reporter at the Toronto Star. He has received national reporting awards and citations for investigations into offshore tax evasion, child exploitation, human trafficking, dangerous doctors and public-health threats. He has recieved the Massey Journalism Fellowship, the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy Reporting and the Michener­ Deacon Fellowship. Cribb is past president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, the first international board member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, current president of Canadian journalism charity Veritas – Advancing Journalism in the Public Interest and is co­-author of Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide (Oxford University Press). He teaches investigative reporting at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and the University of Toronto.

Carolyn Jarvis has spent more than a decade reporting and chasing stories across the country for Global News. After several postings with the network, Jarvis moved to Toronto in 2011 to work with the current affairs division full time as 16X9′s Chief Correspondent.  In 2015, Jarvis’ hour-long investigation into the Moncton RCMP deaths put a spotlight on a concerning lack of training and equipment among frontline members of the RCMP. The investigation elicited a nationwide response, followed by labour code charges against the RCMP. Prior to working with Global News’ current affairs division, Jarvis was the west coast correspondent and weekend anchor for the network’s flagship nightly newscast, Global National. Jarvis also hosted Focus: Decision Canada, a national 30-minute political program based in Ottawa, devoted to the 2011 federal election. 

Mike De Souza is National Observer’s Managing Editor. He has covered politics for more than a decade, focusing in recent years on energy and environment policies in government and industry. In 2017, Mike received a citation of merit at the Michener Awards, and won a Canadian Association of Journalists award, for his investigation that exposed a conflict of interest in the federal review of the Energy East pipeline project, which was subsequently terminated. A Montreal native, Mike has worked as a broadcast and print journalist in his hometown, as well as the National Assembly in Quebec City, Parliament Hill in Ottawa and Calgary. He has worked for Reuters, Postmedia and The Montreal Gazette. He now leads National Observer’s news coverage out of its Ottawa office on Parliament Hill. A specialist in filing targeted access to information requests, Mike is constantly pursuing multiple lines of questioning and investigations and he always has an eye open for his next scoop.

Elizabeth McSheffrey is a multimedia journalist from Ottawa passionate about human rights, current affairs and travel. You can find her bylines all over the world, from the Canadian Prairies to the coast of East Africa. Her work has been nominated for a series of national and international awards, including an outstanding investigative journalism award from the Canadian Association of Journalists and an AITO Young Travel Writer of the Year Award. In 2017, she took home a silver prize at the COPAs for her investigative work on the Husky Energy oil spill.

Patricia W. Elliott is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and a Price of Oil investigator and co-author. In addition to previous work in magazines such as Saturday Night and Canadian Living, she is the author of The White Umbrella, a book chronicling the Golden Triangle heroin trade, and co-producer of Breaking Open Burma, a documentary on Myanmar’s underground journalists. She currently heads the University of Regina School of Journalism and is editor-in-chief of J-Source.   

University Partners: Journalism faculty members, including Sandra Bartlett, Robert Cribb, Patricia Elliott, Trevor Grant and Patti Sonntag led 34 student journalists at Concordia University, Ryerson University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Regina on a series of national investigations. The students gathered thousands of background files, made nearly 400 interview contacts, scoured databases, assisted with 118 freedom of information requests, assisted with fact-checking, and provided video footage. Their work was instrumental in bringing the investigations to publication within a year’s time.