There is a line in the introduction to Carol Off's book All We Leave Behind: A Reporter's Journey into the Lives of Others that illustrates the dilemma reporters (who are, after all, human beings, as Ms. Off eloquently conveys) often face: "Journalists too often have their best moments when other people are having their worst."
On Thursday, Ms. Off, host of the CBC radio show As It Happens, won British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.
In the memoir, Ms. Off recounts her connection with Asad Aryubwal – a source from Afghanistan who helped Ms. Off and her CBC documentary team with an important story, revealing the crimes of warlords in post-Taliban Afghanistan with on-camera testimony. But it was a dangerous story, and Mr. Aryubwal and his family were targeted and forced into exile.
When Ms. Off, a highly respected journalist, learned of this, she faced a dilemma: maintain her well-honed professional distance or cross the line into friendship? She made the decision to help Mr. Aryubwal and his family, and spent years working to bring them to Canada.
"The biggest, biggest thank you is to the Aryubwal family, this family who changed my life, who changed the way I see the world, changed everything for me," Ms. Off told the crowd, after winning.
"It's the most extraordinary thing when you let yourself into the lives of others and they let you into their lives," she added at the end of her brief thank-you speech. "That is what this country is."
The jury called All We Leave Behind, Ms. Off's fourth book, "a timely memoir." It tells the story "with bracing insight and a skillfully crafted narrative," the jury citation reads. "This work forces a rethinking of our attitudes to those who ask us for sanctuary."
The book had earlier been shortlisted for the Governor-General's Literary Award and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. It was named the winner of the B.C. Award Thursday evening in Vancouver.
Also shortlisted for the $40,000 prize (which is presented by the British Columbia Achievement Foundation) were Globe and Mail journalist Doug Saunders for Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians Are Not Enough; former hockey star and politician Ken Dryden for Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and the Future of Hockey; and Toronto Star journalist Tanya Talaga for Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City. Each finalist receives $5,000.
"Their work provides a compelling lens into issues and stories that have genuine impact on our everyday life," said BC Achievement Foundation chair and former publisher Scott McIntyre, congratulating the finalists in a statement. "We are blessed with a remarkable pool of writing talent in Canada."
The jury was chaired by Jan Walter, former chair of the Kingston WritersFest board, and also included author and publisher and former Tourism Vancouver CEO Rick Antonson, and Eliza Reid, the Ottawa-born co-founder of the Iceland Writers' Retreat and currently the First Lady of Iceland.