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This week, The Globe and Mail published a disturbing story about the deliberate targeting and killing of a journalist.
The reporter was the late Marie Colvin, and the superlatives don’t begin to adequately describe her: smart, tough, principled, fearless. Court documents that were unsealed Monday revealed that the Syrian President’s forces purposely targeted Colvin, who was working in a media centre, and that they celebrated when she and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed by rockets in 2012.
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I’m Sylvia Stead, the public editor of The Globe, but I have had many reporting and editing jobs over the years. While I’ve not been the foreign editor, I have helped out on breaking international stories, and I’ve seen the efforts made by correspondents to get stories out and the work editors do to support them.
The story explains how Colvin, a correspondent with The Sunday Times, sneaked into Homs through an underground water tunnel. There, in the district of Baba Amr, they toured a field hospital and a cellar called the “widow’s basement” where mostly women and children sought shelter from the bombs. They fled through the same tunnel and filed a story, which was published on Feb. 19, 2012.
The piece goes on to describe how the two returned to the media centre, where they witnessed even heavier shelling that kept them from escaping. They stayed and two days later, Colvin gave live interviews over the centre’s satellite link to the BBC and CNN. Syrian forces were “shelling with impunity and a merciless disregard for the civilians who simply cannot escape,” she said.
This gripping obituary on Colvin told of two serious injuries she sustained while reporting: when covering the West Bank, a stone was thrown, breaking her nose, and ten years later in Sri Lanka a hand grenade explosion damaged her eye. As the obituary says, “rather than get a prosthetic eye, she wore a piratical black eye patch over it. It was a decision that made her instantly recognizable in the world’s war zones and the patch became a symbol of her courage.”
Foreign correspondents do heroic work after earthquakes, political upheaval and other crises around the world. And as you can imagine, it can be harder for a woman in any of these situations, ranging from being ignored to being assaulted, as happened to two female foreign correspondents in Tahrir Square in 2011.
Colvin’s story took me back to that year, when The Globe also had two very experienced foreign correspondents, Sonia Verma and Patrick Martin, in Egypt during large anti-government protests against then-president Hosni Mubarak. The two were detained and held by the Egyptian military as part of a roundup of journalists near the square.
It started with a tweet from Verma: “We are being taken into some kind of custody. Military have commandeered us and our car.” She tried to send a separate text to The Globe’s foreign editor at the time, Stephen Northfield, but the service was blocked. And then their phones were taken and there was no response and silence for more than three hours. Here‘s Sonia’s story.
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Sonia notes that while it isn’t easy being a foreign correspondent, it was much tougher on the citizens living there. The three hours they spent detained were difficult for Sonia and Patrick, as well as for their families and editors back in Toronto.
Without this type of brave reporting and the work of human-rights groups, readers and citizens would not know what happened in Tahrir Square, or Egypt, or Syria during Colvin’s time there, and they wouldn’t know that at least 70 people were killed by a chemical attack on Syrian citizens this month.
What else we’re reading:
Rukmini Callimachi, another great foreign correspondent, who works for the New York Times, has just filed this amazing look at the thousands of documents left behind by retreating Islamic State fighters. I also loved Elizabeth Renzetti’s weekend piece on loneliness. What struck me most was the number of elderly people and university students who experience loneliness. She writes about a website where people can share those feelings with others. And while we are considering how to better connect with people, it’s worth reading this First Person piece by Megan Ty, a teenager working as a cashier who regularly faces rudeness and anger, as many do in the service sector. Her advice is bang on: “The person on the other side of the till who scans your groceries should be given the same respect as the person beside you at the movie theatre or on the bus. … Whoever it is – it’s always a person. Just like you and just like me.” – SS
When Patricia Hynes-Coates answered a call from her stepson’s grandmother one August afternoon in 2013, she knew something was wrong. Her stepson, Nicholas, had been in an accident: A pickup truck – with a drunk driver behind the wheel – had crashed into his motorcycle.
At the hospital, she found her husband Terry – Nick’s father – slumped on the floor with his head buried in his hands. Nick had just been rushed past him, unresponsive on a gurney and surrounded by doctors and nurses.
Five hours later, after being transfused with 52 units of blood, Nick, 27, died of his injuries at the hospital. The driver was eventually found guilty of impaired driving causing death, but only received a nine-month sentence.
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The moment she got that afternoon phone call, Hynes-Coates and her husband became part of a family they never wanted to join: Soon after Nick’s death, the couple, alone with their other children, got involved with their local MADD Canada chapter in Avalon Peninsula, Nfld.
Since then, they’ve helped run fundraising and awareness campaigns, including the annual Nick Coates Memorial Car Show, named after their son. A year after the accident, Hynes-Coates, 49, attended the national MADD Canada conference, where she learned Newfoundland and Labrador scored an F+ for the province’s performance on provisions and prevention of impaired driving. (The only provinces that scored worse were New Brunswick and Quebec, with an F. The average score for Canada overall was a D.)
Still, when the position of national president of MADD Canada opened up in the summer of 2016, Hynes-Coates laughed at the thought of applying. She didn’t want it, and she didn’t think she was qualified – she’d stepped away from her work teaching postsecondary business and communications classes eight years before the crash to focus on family and to work with her husband on their automotive hobby business.
But her friends and co-workers convinced her this was a way to make a difference at a national level. She got the job, and now she spends her days travelling across the country talking about policy changes and connecting with families affected by impaired driving. Recently, she was in PEI to help launch a campaign for high-school students advocating not driving while high on marijuana.
Currently, as the date for marijuana-legalization looms, Haynes-Coates’s main focus is on educating people on the changing laws around drug-impaired driving. She hopes that government efforts and work like hers can save even one life and help families that lose loved ones too soon. “If we talk to 100 people and even one person doesn’t get into a vehicle after drinking, then we’ve done our job.” – Shelby Blackley
Inspired by something in this newsletter? If so, we hope you’ll amplify it by passing it on. And if there’s a woman you think our readers should know about, tell us about her. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.