Two series published by The Tyee won prestigious Canadian Association of Journalism awards over the weekend.
Krystle Alarcon received a CWA/CAJ Award for Labour Reporting for her four-parter Canada's Temporary Foreign Workers Controversy: Years in the Making, which detailed years of recorded injustice and abuse related to the federal program greatly expanded under the Harper government.
Published in January of 2013 as the Conservatives were finally responding to pressure to review the program, Alarcon's investigation brought the saga up to the moment.
The CAJ gave its Community Reporting prize to David P. Ball for his spring 2013 series on escalating West Coast coal exports. The series Cross Border Coal War? documented the ramped-up pressure to ship U.S.-mined coal from western ports on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.
Ball's five-parter examined the hot debate in Washington state over whether massively increased train shipments of coal into port communities exact too high a pollution cost relative to the jobs and economic activity they might generate. The series also profiled the CEO of the Fraser-Surrey docks slated for coal export expansion, and looked at activist efforts to forge ties across the border in resisting a burgeoning coal industry that contributes greatly to greenhouse gas emissions globally.
Alarcon said she committed to months of investigation into the Temporary Foreign Workers Program because "I am of Filipino descent and I always hear stories of abuse from my community. Migrant workers would always tell me about their unpaid overtime, their yearning to see their children again, their condescending bosses. So I wanted to look into whether there was a systematic flaw in the program and indeed there is."
Much reporting in the 16 months since Alarcon's series ran has focused on Canadians who have been deprived jobs that go to imported workers under the program. Alarcon wanted to bring to light the tenuous existences of foreign temps who work with fewer rights than Canadians, and risk being sent home if they insist on fair treatment. But she had to work long and hard to find workers willing to go on the record. "One thing I was always asked was, 'Will I get deported if I do the interview?' It goes to show how extremely precarious their situation is. But also, that there are a handful of lawyers, union organizers and scholars that genuinely care and have done a lot of work to expose unjust treatment and help the workers."
"I hope the government will listen to these migrant workers," said Alarcon, "and go back to what immigration policies used to be, which was a lot more humane. Even refugee and family reunification programs are severely reduced. Immigration never used to be so profit driven and run by industry until the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was introduced. These are real people, not cash cows."
The Canadian Association of Journalists, a professional organization with over 600 members across Canada, says its "primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members." This year's May 11 award ceremony was held in Vancouver and both Alarcon, who is freelancing for the CBC and others in Whitehorse, and Ball, who is a staff reporter for The Tyee, were on hand to receive their prizes.
"It was a massive honour to see The Tyee recognized as a place for reporting that makes a real impact," Ball said. "But even more than that, all of the awards went to phenomenal hard-hitting journalists.
"I hope this reminds all of us that the investigative spark is still more than alive in Canada today, despite all the industry doom-and-gloom," added Ball. "The energy for holding the powerful to account was simply palpable at the CAJ awards."
The evening's top prize, for investigative reporting, went to CTV parliamentary bureau chief Robert Fife for his coverage of the Senate expenses scandal. Find all the winners here.
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