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Orange ribbons – a memorial symbol for the 215 Indigenous children who's remains were found at a former Kamloops Indian Residential School – are tied to the gates surrounding St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on Aug. 5, 2021.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Two Globe and Mail reporting projects have been named finalists for the 2021 Michener Award for public-service journalism: the newspaper’s coverage of the legacy of Canada’s residential school system, and an investigation into the high prevalence of dangerous eating disorders among elite athletes.

A team that included Tavia Grant, Tom Cardoso, Tanya Talaga, Patrick White, Kristy Kirkup and David Milstead reported on the Catholic Church’s efforts to avoid accepting responsibility for its role in abuses at residential schools. The Globe was named a finalist jointly with the CBC, which reported separately on residential schools. And a team made up of Grant Robertson and Rachel Brady uncovered a toxic culture within Canadian sport. Their work prompted the federal government to intervene.

“These nominations attest to the power of journalism that is carried out with purpose and conviction,” said David Walmsley, The Globe’s editor-in-chief.

“They are vital stories that cast injustice in stark relief, revealing truths that will no longer be silenced. From the horror of residential schools to the abusive treatment of amateur athletes, this is about amplifying voices that must be heard.”

After the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation revealed last spring that ground-penetrating radar had detected children’s unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, Globe journalists set out to investigate the Catholic Church’s unfulfilled commitments to residential school survivors, as well as the effect of decades of abuses at the institutions.

The Globe’s coverage contradicted the Catholic Church’s claim that financial hardship had forced it to renege on its financial obligations to survivors under a 2006 legal agreement.

Mr. Cardoso and Ms. Grant conducted the first-ever analysis of the church’s net assets in Canada, revealing that Catholic charities such as parishes had at least $4.1-billion in properties, investments and cash. They found that the church had the ability to pay the $25-million it had originally agreed to provide for healing and reconciliation in Indigenous communities.

Throughout the year, The Globe published more than a dozen stories based on access-to-information requests to the federal government, documents from sources and dozens of interviews, with some subjects speaking on the matter for the first time. The newspaper and the CBC went to court to view records from the 2014-2015 civil case that ultimately released the church from its financial obligations.

The Globe’s coverage also amplified the voices of survivors to show the devastating effect the schools had on them and their families. One story focused on people who, as children, had attended Lower Post Residential School in northern B.C., and the extent of a church-led cover-up of rampant abuse at the school.

The newspaper’s coverage pressured Canada’s Catholic bishops, who in September “unequivocally” apologized for the trauma and suffering caused by the church’s involvement in the residential school system. The federal government committed to turning over thousands of church and government documents to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

CBC Saskatoon was named a finalist in the same entry for its own coverage of the Catholic Church’s failure to pay its financial obligations to residential school survivors despite having significant resources at its disposal.

The Globe’s investigation into eating disorders among athletes uncovered a number of troubling stories, including those of two synchronized swimmers who revealed how they were forced into severe eating disorders while being told sports science was guiding their coaches’ demands; a young skier who said she was threatened by her coach if she sought medical help; and an Olympic swimmer who said she thought about suicide before the Tokyo Summer Games.

In response to questions from The Globe, Swimming Canada made a significant change to the way its coaches are trained. The organization’s director, John Atkinson, announced that all coaches would be put through new mandatory training on eating disorders.

The story prompted the federal Minister of Sport, Pascale St-Onge, to launch a review of the policies in place to protect athletes, and soon Ms. St-Onge announced she would close a loophole that essentially allowed sports organizations to investigate themselves for allegations of maltreatment or abuse.

The other finalists are CBC News for coverage of abuse allegations against fashion mogul Peter Nygard; CBC Saskatchewan for an investigation into University of Saskatchewan professor Carrie Bourassa’s claims of Indigenous heritage; Global News for coverage of sexual misconduct allegations within Canada’s military; and Kamloops this Week for an investigation into questionable spending at the Thompson-Nicola Regional District in B.C.

This year marks the 52nd anniversary of the Michener Award, which is considered to be Canada’s premier journalism prize. Established in 1970 by Roland Michener, who was governor-general from 1967 to 1974, the award honours excellence in Canadian public-service journalism. The winner will be announced in the coming months.

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