Amnesty Media Award winners report the truth about human rights in an era of ‘fake news’

Amnesty International Canada was thrilled to host its 23rd annual Media Awards event on April 4, honouring eight Canadian journalists for their exceptional reporting on profoundly important human rights issues of our time. We are so grateful to Gillian Findlay, past Amnesty Media Award winner and co-host of the CBC’s premier investigative programme The Fifth Estate, for hosting the packed event in Toronto’s Gardiner Museum.

This year’s event came at a critical moment for journalism, as reporters and news outlets in Canada and further afield find themselves increasingly under pressure in a world of “fake news,” changing media landscapes and outright attempts to harass, intimidate or suppress journalists in many countries. So we were especially honoured to take this important occasion to express our deep appreciation to these exceptional journalists who have gone to tremendous lengths to tell stories which matter so very, very much. These are some highlights from the remarkable evening.

Nathan VanderKlippe, Asia Correspondent for the Globe and Mail, was able to join us all the way from China to accept his award in the National Print category for his article “Myanmar’s Front Lines of Horror.” Hisbreaking reporting on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar powerfully brought across both the human horrors of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, as well as insightfully conveying the broader historic and political roots of the crisis. In accepting the award, Nathan shared harrowing stories of survivors he interviewed in Bangladesh and encouraged the audience to fight back against the powers of fear and hatred which are too often dark precursors to violence and tragedy.

Margaret Evans, Stephanie Jenzer and Richard Devey were the winners in the broadcast category for their story “South Sudan: Unfulfilled Promise.” We were thrilled that Margaret was able to join us  from the CBC’s bureau in London, UK to accept the honour on behalf of her co-winners. In accepting the award, she reflected on the question of how long the people of South Sudan can wait before losing their hope for a brighter future – a hope which seemed so close when the country gained independence in 2011, but has been dimmed by grinding civil war and armed atrocities. In concluding, Evans stressed the important role of organizations such as Amnesty who “don’t go away” as hope seemingly fades – but rather continue to support the determination and resilience of those seeking peace and justice in South Sudan.  

Denise Ryan, journalist for the Vancouver Sun and winner of the regional print award for her article, “Fear and Loathing in the SROs,” told the audience of her personal determination to ensure the stories of people living in decrepit and dangerous conditions in single occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside receive the attention they deserve and require. She described shocking living conditions, with residents living in a building scattered with syringes and not a single working bathroom and where residents weep in the halls, HIV prevalence is amongst the highest in Canada and life expectancies are among the lowest.  Her remarks reminded the audience that an unacceptable status quo must never be allowed to sit unchallenged and that everyone – regardless of social biases and marginalization – is entitled to dignity and respect of their fundamental human rights. 

Sally Armstrong and Peter Bregg received the honour for online journalism for their story, “Resisting Genocide,” published in the United Church Observer online. Their work conveyed the profound spirit of resilience and resistance of the Yazidi people as they were targeted for extermination by ISIS in northern Iraq. While accepting the award, Sally spoke of their determination to “go to the source,” of the Yazidi  people’s suffering. Their reporting brought them to Mount Shingal, where the Yazidis were encircled by ISIS, to the most sacred sites in their religion, and to dusty Peshmerga military posts near the border with Syria. In a crisis marked by mass abductions of Yazidi women as sex slaves, their work profiled a determined young woman who was among the first to enlist with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in order to help defend her community – bringing forward an important narrative of strength and courage in a story often marked by tragedy and victimhood.  

And finally, Ashley Hyshka, winner of this year’s Youth Media Award, received the award for her outstanding investigative story, “No More Stolen Sisters” published in The Runner, the campus newspaper at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC. Introduced to the audience by  the renowned former CBC correspondent and anchor Rick MacInnes-Rae, Ashley spoke of her personal determination to share the interwoven stories of an Indigenous woman, Lorelei Williams, seeking answers in the disappearance of her aunt and cousin; and of a police officer, Dave Dickson, who gathered evidence pointing to a pattern of missing women in Vancouver’s downtown East side going back to the 1990’s. If it weren’t for a refusal to investigate further by his supervisors, Dickson believes the notorious serial killer Robert Pickton may have been stopped far earlier.  Tragically, the DNA of Lorelei’s missing cousin was found on the Pickton property six long years after her disappearance. Ashley closed her remarks with a simple, yet powerful call: for no more stolen sisters.