La Presse’s Larouche and Journalism for Human Rights’ Pulfer win 2023 Press Freedom Awards

Miraee, Iranian living in U.S., wins international editorial cartoon contest

World Press Freedom Canada (WPFC) is delighted to announce La Presse’s Vincent Larouche as the winner of the 2023 Press Freedom Award.

The award is given annually to a journalist who has overcome secrecy, legal maneuvers, political intimidation, interference, or other safety risks to produce an outstanding body of public interest reporting.

WPFC has also selected Rachel Pulfer, executive director of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), as the winner of the 2023 Spencer Moore Award for Lifetime Achievement. This award honours the recipient’s sustained and demonstrable commitment to improving press freedom and freedom of information.

Press Freedom Award

In March 2022, Larouche uncovered a secret trial conducted in the Quebec Court of Appeal, in which prosecutors pursued charges against a police informant. Larouche leveraged confidential sources, access to information legislation, court documents, and more to peel back the layers of this phantom case, which ran counter to Canada’s open court principle.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada deployed significant resources to block La Presse in court, in addition to refusing to hand over its list of court file numbers opened in Quebec on criminal matters. Larouche’s coverage prompted Quebec’s justice minister to vow such a trial will never be conducted in shadow again. The practice was condemned by the Bar of Quebec and chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Much information related to the trial remains sealed. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the Quebec Court of Appeal decision that maintained the blanket of secrecy.

“Secret trials remove the media’s ability to scrutinize proceedings and hold the government and justice system accountable. The resulting lack of information can fuel public mistrust in our institutions, which undermines our democracy,” says WPFC president Heather Bakken.

Citation of Merit

WPFC is also awarding a Certificate of Merit to freelance journalist Justin Ling, who has a long track record of breaking through walls of silence around police cold cases, contributing to the nationwide discussion on access to information and press freedom, and shedding light on sophisticated networks of disinformation that contribute to alienation and radicalization in Canada. This was highlighted in his 2022 coverage of the “Freedom Convoy” protests – for which he received physical, legal and political threats from organizers and protesters.

A certificate of merit is also awarded to Charlie Pinkerton who broke the story of Greenbelt developers attending the wedding party of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s daughter. Pinkerton resigned from his job at QP Briefing, which is owned by iPolitics, over alleged interference. The Toronto Star subsequently published the story.

WPFC commends former QP Briefing editor Jessica Smith Cross who also resigned over the purported interference from the top.

Spencer Moore Award

After the fall of Kabul in 2021, Pulfer spearheaded an effort to rescue Afghani journalists and human rights defenders targeted by the Taliban.

Pulfer and the JHR team have helped evacuate some 2,000 vulnerable Afghans, including journalists, interpreters and human rights defenders. The Toronto-based organization’s subsequent Afghan Journalist-in-Residence initiative further provided fully paid placements for 10 of these newcomers at leading Canadian newsrooms.

Led by Pulfer since 2011, JHR is a Canadian charity that empowers journalists around the world with the skills to cover human rights stories fairly and effectively in their environments. It also advocates for press freedom issues in Canada.

“Rachel Pulfer has dedicated her career to promoting press freedom issues in Canada, and abroad, as a fundamental tenet of human rights and democracy,” says Bakken. “She has worked tirelessly to make a real impact by ensuring journalists are supported in their bid for safety and job security – even against all odds.”

International Editorial Cartoon Contest

Ali Miraee, an Iranian cartoonist living in the United States, is the winner of WPFC’s international editorial cartoon contest which awards a cash prize of $1,500.

Anne Darenne of France was the second place finisher. Miguel Morales Madrigal of Cuba won the third prize.

This year’s theme for the cartoon contest is: ‘Free Speech or Free For All?’ Curated by committee member and Le Droit cartoonist Guy Badeaux, the contest drew 470 submissions from 62 countries.

May 3 Luncheon

The awards will be distributed at WPFC’s annual World Press Freedom Day Luncheon at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on May 3. The awards luncheon will feature keynote speaker Anna Maria Tremonti, a multiple-award-winning journalist, and Irene Gentle, Torstar’s VP of Inclusion and Strategic Partnerships, who will participate in an armchair discussion about the rise of online harassment against female and marginalized journalists.

We would like to thank the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, our patron sponsor, and the Canadian Bankers Association, our sustaining sponsor. Thank you also to Power Corporation of Canada, our platinum sponsor.