The London Free Press has won the 2016 Michener Award for its series on a small-town real estate agent whose untimely death in a London, Ont., detention centre three years ago resulted in changes in policing, bail, and community and hospital mental-health care.
Governor General David Johnston presented the Michener Award to the Free Press at Rideau Hall on Wednesday.
Reporter Randy Richmond said the title of the eight-part series, Indiscernible, was a word used 26 times in a court hearing transcription to describe Jamie High's 36 final attempts to be heard.
"Jamie, 40, had been a successful, popular and athletic real estate agent in St. Thomas," Mr. Richmond said. "At that hearing, he sat in a room at London's provincial jail, naked under a heavy suicide gown in a wheelchair, muttering sounds on a video screen to court officials who held his fate in their hands. An hour and a half later, he died on the floor of his solitary confinement cell, two days before Christmas, 2014."
The paper investigated the circumstances of Mr. High's death for two years. It found that "community mental-health care is denied to people accused of crimes, there are no provincial standards for how police and hospitals deal with accused people, the courts seem powerless to help inmates, jails don't have the resources to treat addiction and mental illness [and] coroners inquests have done little to correct the problems."
The series spurred several changes, including a coalition of 35 Southwestern Ontario social-service agencies agreeing to rethink their policy prohibiting accused people of accessing mental-health care.
The Michener Award, founded in 1970 by then-governor-general Roland Michener, honours excellence in public-service journalism on any platform, with an emphasis on the work's impact and benefit to the public.
The Globe and Mail's Kathy Tomlinson was also nominated for her series on shadow flipping, which exposed dubious real estate practices in British Columbia.
Ms. Tomlinson's series – which launched with a deep dive into the practice of middlemen using a contract assignment clause as a loophole to maximize profits on houses they are flipping – resulted in several policy changes, including the end of self-regulation in the B.C. real estate sector and changes to the federal tax code.
The B.C. government ended what it called the "potentially predatory practice" of real estate contract assignment, also known as "shadow flipping."
"Everyone knew something was happening in the real estate markets of Canada's biggest cities but it was only through journalism that the public and policy makers got the facts," The Globe's editor-in-chief David Walmsley said.
"Our series produced the data that had been missing from the debate. The addition of this information resulted in the most widespread government policy moves involving any journalism in 2016."
Other finalists included CBC/Radio-Canada and the Toronto Star for their reporting on the Panama Papers; the National Observer for its story that uncovered a private meeting between members of a National Energy Board and former Quebec premier Jean Charest; La Presse for its investigation into Quebec's video lottery business; and the Toronto Star for its work on secrecy in investigations of police conduct.
A panel of five judges, all with extensive backgrounds in journalism, chose the 2016 winner.