The Canadian Association of Journalists is pleased to announce the winners of its annual awards for outstanding investigative journalism in Canada published or broadcast in 2016. Check out the full list of winners!

We also handed out the Code of Silence award to Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal and the CAJ Charles Bury Award to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.


Photo courtesy heipei via Flickr

We were so excited for this year’s national conference on April 28-29 in Ottawa. As journalism continues to take a hit, with layoffs piling up and continued attacks on press freedom, we know it's not easy in Canadian newsrooms. And we also know this:


So we rallied in Ottawa. Our delgates and presenters collaborated on valuable discussions on press freedom, freelancing, interviewing, data, ethics and more—and they networked throughout.

If you missed the conference, check out the #CAJ17 page and browse the liveblogs we offered for every single session.



Karen Howlett: Reporting on Fentanyl

Karen Howlett explains how a team of Globe and Mail journalists attempted to trace the deadly path of fentanyl from supplier to consumer— a search that would produce troubling questions about the ability of governments to get a handle on this national crisis. 

The Globe and Mail’s investigation into fentanyl was sparked by an alarming surge in overdose deaths from a potent new street drug.

In March, 2015, the Blood Tribe reserve in southwestern Alberta declared a state of emergency after at least 10 people died of overdoses.

In May, 2015, RCMP officers in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, seized 63 pills as part of a probe into the sudden death of a 45-year-old man. Test results showed that the pills, dyed green to mimic the 80-milligram OxyContin tablets favoured by opioid abusers, contained fentanyl.

And in December of that year, health-care workers linked an overdose death in Victoria’s homeless tent city on Boxing Day to a single bad batch of drugs that was to blame for three dozen overdoses over the span of a week.   

The Globe assembled a team of reporters on two continents in early 2016 to tie together these developments into a national story. Their five-page report, titled Killer High: How Canada got addicted to fentanyl published in April, 2016, followed the supply chain for the illicit drug to chemical companies in China, and showed the ease with which traffickers were smuggling it into Canada by exploiting gaps at the border. 

The report also traced the epidemic of fentanyl-related overdoses back to its very beginning, with the introduction two decades earlier of the first mass-marketed prescription opioid to Canada – OxyContin. The painkiller was popular not only with people who became addicted to the drug after their doctor prescribed it, but also with heroin users, because they could easily snort it like cocaine or inject it like heroin for a quick high. Organized crime filled the void left by the removal OxyContin from the market in Canada in 2012 with a bootleg version of the little green pill.

The first question reporters sought to answer was how many Canadians were dying after consuming an illicit version of the prescription painkiller fentanyl. 

It quickly became apparent that a mounting epidemic of overdose deaths was hiding in plain sight. Unlike the United States, Canada does not have a national database tracking deaths from opioid overdoses, leaving policy makers without the basic tools to monitor a leading cause of accidental deaths. In a bid to fill that gap, The Globe contacted coroners and medical examiners in every province and territory. Still, it was not possible to compile a national tally, because each region collects and interprets data differently. And many of the statistics were out of date: the most recent numbers were from 2014 for Ontario and 2013 for Quebec.

In the absence of reliable data on overdose deaths, the reporters looked for other ways to document the scale of Canada’s fentanyl problem. They scoured the Internet for public health alerts from municipalities that had issued warnings about the presence of a drug known on the street as “greenies” or “shady eighties,” indicating a  connection between illicit fentanyl and OxyContin. In addition to British Columbia and Alberta, the two hardest-hit provinces, several communities in Ontario had been hit with a spike in fatal overdoses. The findings revealed a disturbing trend – one neither the federal nor provincial governments had yet to acknowledge: the scourge of fentanyl was rapidly expanding east from Western Canada. 

The next question for reporters: how was a drug that originates in China getting smuggled into Canada? To obtain accurate information about how easy it is to order fentanyl over the Internet, a Globe reporter corresponded with companies that supply the drugs using a pseudonym and did not disclose himself as a journalist. One supplier from China e-mailed photos of fentanyl hidden inside silica-desiccant packets – the type normally used when shipping goods such as electronics – and a screen shot of a recent order from Canada.   

These companies exist in plain view on the Internet, openly advertising the drugs they make and sell. On the ground, The Globe discovered a different story. The Globe’s Beijing correspondent travelled to Wuhan in search of addresses posted online by a series of drug manufacturers, but the trail went cold. None of them could be found.

The trail was just as murky on this side of the Pacific. To try to gauge the size of the underground fentanyl market in Canada, The Globe compiled a database of the number of trafficking rings busted by police. This involved reviewing public-disclosure statements made by the RCMP and other major police forces on anything involving fentanyl powder and pill-press machines smuggled into Canada from China. 

Court documents relating to drug trafficking, including search warrants used by police, are usually sealed. But The Globe obtained documents relating to the sentencing and bail hearing for two drug dealers behind the country’s first clandestine lab, in Montreal, providing a glimpse into how these operations produce illicit fentanyl powder. The Montreal lab imported the white crystalline powder from China, cut it with fillers, put it through a pill-press machine, and then shipped the tablets by courier all over North America.  

The Globe review found that police across Canada had shut down 20 fentanyl labs since the first major bust in Montreal in April 2013 – just months after OxyContin was pulled from the market in 2012. 

But much of the fentanyl was arriving in Canada undetected. It took repeated questions from The Globe over several weeks before a spokesperson at the Canada Border Services Agency confirmed that border guards could not legally open packages weighing less than 30 grams without the consent of the recipient. Suppliers often shipped drugs in packages under the 30-gram threshold, ensuring that border agents would not open them. 

The Globe report paints a bleak picture of a street drug whose deadly fallout continues to make itself felt. It showed that Ottawa and the provinces had failed to take adequate steps to address the roots of the problem – the over prescribing of prescription painkillers – paving the way for a booming underground market in bootleg fentanyl.  

At least 2,458 people died of opioid-related overdoses in Canada in 2016 – an average of almost seven a day - according to the first attempt to measure the toll the drugs have taken from coast to coast. But that national snapshot is far from complete: the numbers released in June 2017 by a federal-provincial-territorial special advisory committee do not include Quebec, and the data collected from Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador are from 2015, making them more than a year out of date.


Karen Howlett is an award-winning Toronto-based journalist at The Globe and Mail, where she is a member of the investigations team. She has spent much of the past 1.5 years reporting on Canada's opioid crisis. Prior to joining the investigations team in 2013, she was based in The Globe’s Queens Park bureau, where she reported on federal-provincial relations and Ontario politics. She has also worked in The Globe’s British Columbia bureau and in The Globe’s Report on Business section, where she reported on financial services and securities regulation. 

Howlett, along with Justin Giovannetti, Nathan VanderKlippe, Andrea Woo, Les Perreaux, Laura Blenkinsop, Trish McAlaster, Michael Pereira, Melissa Tait were CAJ 2016 award winners in the OPEN MEDIA category.

 The CAJ's In The Field series invites leading Canadian journalists to share the stories behind the making of their award-winning works. 

Have a journalist in mind that you'd like to see featured? Tell us:!

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Changes to Media magazine: A letter from David McKie

The CAJ is excited to launch a new "In the Field" digital series which will formally replace our longest running publication, Media magazine. Below, Media magazine editor and data-journalist extraordinaire, David McKie talks about the changes.

 Flipping through past editions of Media magazine is like a taking a trip through the milestones of an industry evolving in ways that are still hard to imagine. The publication has gone from paper, to PDF, and back to paper for one special awards edition, only to return to PDF format. Media has tracked the evolution of computer-assisted reporting, data-journalism, investigative journalism, shrinking newsrooms, shrinking news holes and the challenges facing journalism schools.

Though the formats, and themes evolved, what remained constant was the outstanding content, and the scribes who toiled year after year to write thoughtful columns, how-to articles and evocative essays.

Every year, award-winners – CAJ NNA, Michener Award – graced the  pages with accounts of how they got their stories, and advice and encouragement for those seeking to till the same ground.

Even as our business evolves, and the digital space assumes greater primacy, there will always be a space for the kind of thoughtful content I’ve just described. In fact, I’d go one step further and suggest that such content is our lifeblood.

It is because of this belief that the CAJ has decided that though Media content will live on, it won’t be inside the pages of a standard publication. Instead, we will seek to find a wider audience by pushing the content out on social media, allowing folks on Facebook and Twitter to share the content more easily.

So, while this may be goodbye to Media magazine, it is a reaffirmation that the content will live on in ways that will evolve to even more venues (such as podcasts!) So, please stay tuned.

In the meantime, over the next several weeks we’ll be sharing write-ups from CAJ and NNA award-winners on topics such as the escalating opioid use, the still-vexing problem of suicides among veterans and, the sloppiness of some long-term care facilities.  

We look forward to the conversations these stories will generate.

Until the next time.  

David McKie 

David McKie is the long-time editor of Media magazine, a producer in CBC News’ Parliamentary bureau, author of two journalism textbooks, and data journalism teacher at Algonquin College, Carleton University and the University of King’s College. 

From Mindy McAdams' "Job skills for the new media: What you'll need to know to survive online" (1997) to Fred Vallance-Jones' "Bringing the Panama Papers to your doorstep" (2016) you can find it all in the Media mag archive right HERE! 

Stay tuned for our "In the Field" digital series where top journalists will share the stories (and secrets) behind their award-winning works. 

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CAJ applauds passage of press shield law

OTTAWA, Oct. 5, 2017 — The Canadian Association of Journalists is pleased that Parliament is set to pass Bill S-231, which strengthens protections for confidential sources of journalists. The Journalistic Sources Protection Act passed third reading at the end of September, and is expected to receive royal assent shortly.

The new law will allow journalists to refuse to surrender documents to law enforcement officials that would identify an anonymous source, except in certain circumstances.

“This last year has been marked by repeated threats to journalistic independence and the press freedom that underscores our democracy, as well as Canadians' ability to have the information necessary to engage in public debate,” said CAJ president Nick Taylor-Vaisey. “Brave whistleblowers who approach journalists—speaking anonymously and at great personal risk—often expose stories of corruption and public interest. This bill will provide much-needed legal protection to those Canadians.”

The CAJ also supports the creation of a special advocate who would, at the request of a judge, make the case for continued protection of sources when legal authorities seek warrants for surveillance or seizure of records that could identify anonymous sources.

Despite this positive step forward, Canada still struggles to provide certain basic press freedoms, and ranked 22nd in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

“In recent years, law enforcement repeatedly tapped the phones of journalists. Courts consistently approved warrants that harmed press freedom,” said Taylor-Vaisey. “A federal agency went so far as to hire a private investigator to identify an investigative journalist's anonymous source.”

The Canadian Association of Journalists supports this bill and applauds the advocates who pushed so hard for its passage. The CAJ now calls on the country’s public officials to respect the role press freedom plays in a strong Canadian democracy.

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing more than 500 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members. 

For more information: 

Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ President

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CAJ statement on Rebel Media

OTTAWA, Aug. 23, 2017 — Rebel Media’s conduct at Charlottesville protests and accusations of impropriety leveled at the organization from former employees have both raised questions about Rebel’s legitimacy as a news outlet, and reignited a debate about what counts as journalism in a rapidly evolving media landscape.

As some commentators and reporters look to the Canadian Association of Journalists for guidance at a controversial time, the CAJ wants to clarify its past advocacy on Rebel Media’s behalf—and its criticism of that organization, too.

When the Alberta government attempted to block Rebel Media’s access to the provincial legislature, the CAJ opposed that decision on the grounds that governments shouldn’t get to decide who is—and isn’t—a journalist. When the UN climate conference rejected Rebel Media’s application for accreditation, we supported their appeal on similar grounds.

Earlier this year, however, the CAJ criticized Rebel Media’s decision to block a Canadaland reporter from a private event to which other reporters had been allowed access. The CAJ demanded Rebel Media offer equal treatment to all reporters.

The CAJ, which is a professional development and advocacy organization but not a regulatory body, encourages all journalists to follow the organization’s ethics guidelines, which are widely cited as best practices for Canadian journalists.

Those guidelines include the following points:

  • We do not allow our own biases to impede fair and accurate reporting.

  • We carefully consider our political activities and community involvements—including those online—and refrain from taking part in demonstrations, signing petitions, doing public relations work, fundraising or making financial contributions if there is a chance we will be covering the campaign, activity or group involved.

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing more than 500 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.

For more information:

Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ President


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Call for nominations: Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy

The Canadian Association of Journalists, the Centre for Free Expression, News Media Canada and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression are inviting nominations for the Code of Silence Award for outstanding achievement in government secrecy. The award will be given annually in each of four categories—federal, provincial, municipal and police services—starting this fall.

If you have met resistance in getting information from a public body, please send us your nomination for a deserving award recipient along with the reasons why it should be chosen. Nominations will be considered by a jury who will select the "winners." Awards will be presented in October and November at public events in the cities in which each of the recipients is located.

Nominations must be submitted by August 31, 2017. They should be sent to Ange Holmes, Coordinator, Centre for Free Expression, Ryerson University either by email ( or by mail (350 Victoria Street, Toronto, ON M5B 2K3). All nominations will be acknowledged and all nominators will be invited to the awards ceremonies.

Appel de candidatures – Prix Code of Silence reconnaissant une contribution exceptionnelle à la culture du secret au sein d’une administration publique

L’Association canadienne des journalistes, le Centre for Free Expression, Médias d’info Canada et Canadian Journalists for Free Expression sollicitent les mises en candidature au prix Code of Silence (code du silence), qui reconnaît une contribution exceptionnelle à la culture du secret au sein d’une administration publique. Dès cet automne, le prix sera décerné chaque année à un service public dans chacune des quatre catégories suivantes : administration fédérale, administration provinciale, administration municipale et service de police.

Si un service public est demeuré muet face à vos demandes d’informations répétées, soumettez-nous sa candidature, et indiquez les raisons pour lesquelles vous estimez qu’il mérite de recevoir ce prix. Un jury examinera les candidatures proposées et sélectionnera les « gagnants ». Les prix seront remis en octobre et en novembre prochains lors de cérémonies publiques dans les villes où sont établis les lauréats. 

Les candidatures doivent être envoyées au plus tard le 31 août 2017, à Ange Holmes, coordonnatrice au Centre for Free Expression de l’Université Ryerson, par courriel ( ou par la poste (350, rue Victoria, Toronto (Ont.), M5B 2K3). Toutes les candidatures proposées seront dévoilées aux cérémonies de remise de prix, en présence de leurs auteurs.  

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Here's how Ottawa can help local news: CAJ

OTTAWAJune 16, 2017 /CNW/ — The Canadian Association of Journalists supports several recommendations in a parliamentary committee's report on the future of local news that proactively—but non-intrusively—encourage high-quality journalism in Canada.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage's latest report, Disruption: Change and Churning in Canada'sMedia Landscape, made 20 recommendations to strengthen local news across Canada. The CAJ appreciates the committee's attempt to consult widely as it studied an issue critical to the public interest—a process that included CAJ testimony.

Several of the committee's recommendations responded to the priorities of like-minded journalism organizations that highlighted the revenue problem plaguing local news, including the Canadian Newspaper Association and others. The CAJ supports recommendations to:

  • Amend sections 19, 19.01 and 19.1 of the Income Tax Act to allow deduction of digital advertising on Canadian-owned platforms;

  • Introduce a tax credit to compensate print media companies for a portion of their capital and labour investments in digital media; and

  • Ensure that foreign news aggregators are subject to the same tax obligations as Canadian providers

"As advertising dollars slipped away, gobbled up by digital giants like Facebook and Google, journalists have watched their newsrooms shrink," said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. "These measures could help local newsrooms reclaim some of that lost revenue."

One of the CAJ's stated priorities comprised one of the lesser reported recommendations of Disruption, which called on the federal government to make it easier for non-profit journalism outlets to flourish in Canada by making those organizations eligible for charity status.

"The recommendation on charity status reflects a long-simmering discussion in Canada about alternative funding models for journalism," said Taylor-Vaisey. "We know there's all kinds of potential for not-for-profits to produce public-interest journalism that matters."

The CAJ also supports the committee's recommendation on encouraging Indigenous journalism, which echoes a recommendation of the Public Policy Forum's Shattered Mirror report. "Canadian newsrooms desperately need Indigenous voices to tell stories that matter, and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is well-suited to lead any effort to that end," said Taylor-Vaisey.

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing more than 500 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.

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Canadian newsrooms must transform themselves: CAJ

May 20, 2017 / CNW / — Canadian journalists have spent a week confronting complex debates about cultural appropriation, free expression and the underrepresentation of minority and marginalized writers in most major newsrooms. The Canadian Association of Journalists understands these issues are divisive, but urges media owners to lead an industry-wide effort to transform newsroom culture—and make room for more diverse voices.

As the #AppropriationPrize controversy that grew out of Hal Niedzviecki’s resignation as editor of the Writers’ Union of Canada’s magazine continues to unfold, the CAJ remains a champion of free expression. Public debate requires voices from a wide variety of perspectives, including and especially those that challenge the status quo.

But the recent controversy has laid bare the ugly truth that Canadian media suffers from a lack of prominent diverse voices and varied perspectives. “Journalists need to challenge our own assumptions by engaging, learning about, and finally writing about other cultures,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. “But newsroom leaders also need to recognize the glaring lack of non-white perspectives on their own mastheads and broadcasts—and make tangible, sustainable changes that create more room for those voices.

“Canadian newsrooms are nowhere near as culturally diverse as many of the communities we cover,” said Taylor-Vaisey. “The only way to change that is to hire—and amplify—more voices from as many perspectives as possible.”

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing more than 500 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.

For more information, please contact:

Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ President
Phone: 647.968.2393


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APTN wins CAJ Charles Bury Award

OTTAWA, April 30, 2017 /CNW/ – The Canadian Association of Journalists recognized the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network with the CAJ Charles Bury Award at its annual awards gala at the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel on April 29.

The award is given under circumstances of exceptional merit to those people or organizations that have made a significant contribution to Canadian journalism. APTN is leading the charge on giving Indigenous people in Canada a voice on both sides of the camera, and the network is a stellar example of a growing news organization that embraces advocacy and professional development.

“When it comes to supporting journalists and fighting for journalism, APTN punches above its weight,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. “They fight for press freedom in the courts. They pitched, organized and funded vital programming at our conference. They’re everywhere.”

Taylor-Vaisey also highlighted the individual contribution of Karyn Pugliese, whose name is front and centre in so much of APTN’s work. “As if all that wasn’t enough, Karyn even joined our ethics committee late last year,” said Taylor-Vaisey. “There’s no end to her energy and dedication.”

This award, formerly known as the President’s Award, was renamed in honour of veteran journalist and long-time CAJ board member Charles Bury, who died in February 2014.

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing nearly 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.

For further information:
Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president – 647-968-2393 cell,


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‘Congratulations’ to Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshal!

OTTAWA, April 30, 2017 /CNW/ – The most secretive government department in Canada, as “honoured” by the Canadian Association of Journalists at its annual awards gala at the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel on April 29, is Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshal.

The winning nomination for this year’s Code of Silence award came from Larry Cornies of the London Free Press, whose reporting on the aftermath of a costly fire, and a lack of transparency on the part of the London Fire Department and provincial Fire Marshal’s office, demonstrated a clear pattern of secrecy.

After a fire on June 30, 2016, which cost $1.5 million and destroyed a dozen businesses, Cornies inquired about the department’s response time. City council had earlier endorsed a goal of responding to fires within four minutes. The department referred all questions to the Fire Marshal’s office. No one would offer the data, which would have been available.

A mere 249 days later, after two appeals through freedom-of-information laws, the OFM finally revealed the response time: seven minutes and 11 seconds.

“The eight-month-long obfuscation raises the question of how city councillors in Ontario are supposed to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of the fire departments accountable to them when such basic information is suppressed,” Cornies wrote in his nomination. “The OFM operates within a culture of secrecy—a culture that reaches into municipal departments that should instead be responsive to city councils and the citizens they serve.

“And all this under the nose of a provincial government that prides itself on having adopted ‘open government’ principles.”

Needless to say, the CAJ agrees.

We also awarded an honourable mention to the National Energy Board, which hired a vice-president of transparency and strategic engagement who, soon after taking the job, decided to “warn employees that they were under investigation by a private security firm for speaking to reporters.” That investigation was based on a “preliminary assessment” by the firm. When National Observer’s Mike De Souza, the NEB’s nominator, filed an access-to-information request for that report, the NEB told him there was no record of such an assessment.

Finally, we placed the Trudeau government on notice. After promising substantive—and necessary—access-to-information reform during the last campaign, the government has since backed away from any timelines at all on producing real results. “The Liberals did everything they could to match the Harper government’s record on this file,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. “They fell a little short this year, but we have a good feeling about next year.”

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing nearly 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.

For further information:
Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president – 647-968-2393 cell,


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The Code of Silence award: Call for nominations!

As #CAJ17 approaches, it's time to revive our annual tongue-in-cheek tradition, an idea with serious overtones: the Canadian Association of Journalists' Code of Silence award. 

Nursed to life by past-president Rob Cribb, the idea was to "celebrate" Canada's most-secretive government, department, agency or publicly funded body. Who was putting that extra bit of elbow grease into keeping any sunlight from reaching the public's business?

The "winner" that first year? The Ontario Ministry of the Environment. 

The CAJ is now accepting nominations from journalists working in Canada who've been fighting the good fight to pry public information out of the hands of bureaucrats and politicians from sea, to sea, to sea.

Nominators are asked to think big and small. Previous winners include the entire federal government, omnibus government legislation, a former prime minister's office and, last year, Canada's "financial intelligence unit." They also include the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and come from questions as simple as how many fish were being spawned at a federal facility—an answer shared with tour groups but not with an inquiring journalist before the spin masters were involved.

If it takes and/or spends public money and isn't being open and transparent about how it does so, it's an eligible nominee.

Do you have an egregious example that gets your own blood boiling? Nominations can be e-mailed to our president at

The winner will be announced during the closing banquet for the #CAJ17 conference at the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel on April 29Registration for the conference is open, with early bird rates ending April 25.

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