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Foreign correspondent Stephanie Nolen, who was The Globe’s Latin America bureau chief, received an award for a piece that told the stories of those among the 66,000 people who have disappeared in Mexico since the start of the so-called war on drugs in 2006. Basilia Bonastre, pictured, was the mother of Arturo Figueroa, whose son was abducted in Cardel, Veracruz, Mexico.Felix Marquez/The Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail journalists have been awarded two first-place prizes by the Online News Association, winning for investigative work among competitors that included some of the world’s top media companies.

A data investigation by reporter Tom Cardoso that revealed the systemic racist treatment of Indigenous men and women offenders and Black offenders within Canada’s prison system was honoured for his data innovation.

Longtime foreign correspondent Stephanie Nolen, who was The Globe’s Latin America bureau chief, was among The Globe team that received a second award, for a piece that told the stories of some of those among the 66,000 people who have disappeared in Mexico since the start of the so-called war on drugs in 2006. The project, entitled Gone, was awarded for excellence and innovation in visual digital storytelling.

“We are particularly proud of these wins against global competition. Both Bias Behind Bars and Gone were epic stories that involved years of work, shoe-leather and digital design experimentation,” said David Walmsley, The Globe’s editor-in-chief.

“With Bias, we collated the proof Canada’s justice system is racist. Our statistical body of work has now been shared publicly to ensure the public cannot be denied the truth. With Gone, we stitched together hundreds of drone photographs and combined them with family testimony to remind people that those who have been Disappeared have to be found and remembered, wherever they may be buried.”

Mr. Cardoso, who was also named Journalist of the Year by Canada’s National Newspaper Awards for this work, managed to crunch hard-to-access data, including one 12-question, multiple-choice test administered to all inmates in Canadian prisons. This test score largely determines their fate inside: whether they land in minimum security institutions where their living conditions are relatively comfortable or whether they end up in maximum security in a six-by-ten foot cell in a building behind barbed wire.

Mr. Cardoso’s work revealed the scores are biased against Indigenous, Black and female prisoners, a fact Correctional Service Canada has known but not disclosed for nearly two decades.

Mr. Cardoso used advanced statistical modelling to show Black men were nearly 24 per cent more likely than white men to receive the worst possible initial security rating, affecting their access to treatment programs. Indigenous men, meanwhile, were roughly 30 per cent more likely than their white counterparts to be assigned the worst possible reintegration potential score, which affects their odds of getting paroled. Indigenous women fared even worse: They were roughly 64 per cent more likely than white women to end up with the worst security score at admission and 40 per cent more likely to end up with the poorest reintegration score at any point during their sentence.

The response to the story, which ran in October, 2020, prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say more had to be done by the federal government to fight systemic racism in prisons

The Globe team involved with Gone wanted to give readers a sense of the scale of the enormous tragedy of the violence and corruption behind the tens of thousands of people who have disappeared. The team resolved to use the lens of a single mass grave that is believed to be the final resting place for victims of narcotraffickers, state violence, human trafficking and political conflict. The challenge was to demonstrate the complicity between organized crime and the state, and how this has engendered many of the systemic issues that plague Mexico today, from poverty and social vulnerability to corrupt justice and governance.

The team synthesized nearly 8,000 images, dozens of hours of interviews, and thousands of pages of legal and forensic documents. They built a narrative that centred on the missing and those who search for them, and that showed the power of disappearance as a tool for social control.

Ms. Nolen, a multiple NNA winner, traced the families of those who had been found and identified at Colinas de Santa Fe, where 298 skulls and thousands of bones have been exhumed from 155 shallow graves.

The immediacy and intimacy of the story struck a powerful chord with readers, with one writing that the work “shows the importance of putting a face and a voice to realities that seem so far away from us.”

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