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The Globe and Mail’s investigative series about deficiencies at the Public Health Agency of Canada that led to the silencing of the country’s early pandemic warning system has been awarded a prestigious prize for journalism that contributes to the public good.

Globe reporter Grant Robertson was honoured with this year’s Canadian Hillman Prize, with the judges pointing to his “unparalleled” work into how the government’s decision to shutter the Global Public Health Intelligence Network left the country unprepared to respond to the spreading COVID-19 virus.

“This investigation exposed a public policy failure of epic proportions,” judge Bonnie Brown said. “Robertson’s reporting struck at the very core of what went wrong with Canada’s early COVID response. It explained why federal officials misjudged the urgency of the situation, and why the country’s pandemic response lagged behind our global peers.”

What happened with Canada’s pandemic alert system? The GPHIN controversy explained

Mr. Robertson’s series of revelations continue to have extraordinary impact, not only on government but in the broader public discourse. Most Canadians had never heard of the early warning agency, GPHIN, that had been operating for decades and was considered a world-leading model, having contributed important information during the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks.

Mr. Robertson revealed that just before the discovery of the novel coronavirus in late 2019, Canada had diverted money from the agency, leaving doctors and epidemiologists unable to track the looming threat. His stories over months, the result of tenacious digging, revealed government officials refused to listen to the advice of scientists, that information sharing was spotty and the bureaucrats that were in charge of the agency were unable to respond to the public-health threat.

“This investigative work during the pandemic was particularly important. It revealed how decisions made in secret by powerful bureaucrats put lives at unnecessary risk,” Globe editor-in-chief David Walmsley.

“It illustrated the consequences when decision makers consciously pushed scientists to the back of the room and dismantled an early warning system that was both the pride of Canada and the envy of the world. Only journalism can bring these stories to light.”

The Globe last won the Canadian Hillman in 2016 for its investigative work on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and The Hamilton Spectator were cited by the Hillman judges this year for honourable mentions.

APTN’s work The Death Report investigated the deaths of three First Nations girls – sisters, all of whom took their own lives, and the First Nations’ child welfare agency that failed to protect them.

In Hamilton, the Spectator investigated a local retirement home where appalling living conditions led to the deaths of a quarter of residents from COVID-19. The Spectator revealed the home had been run by a family who had filed for bankruptcy years earlier, leaving taxpayers on the hook. The family was eventually stripped of their licences to operate eight retirement facilities.

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