When measuring the value of journalism, it can be hard to assess impact. Over the years, Observer Media Group has published more than 16,000 articles that have been read by 27 million people. Along the way, our editors recorded examples of when reporting triggered important change that we believe improved the lives of Canadians, or, perhaps even more important, provided citizens with the information they needed to demand reform.
National Observer 2017
“... It was National Observer that helped British Columbians really understand the value of this iconic species and the importance of saving them. Thank you everyone at National Observer!” — Trish Boyum, guide operator, Great Bear Rainforest
In case you were wondering about the point of investing in journalism, here's what happened last quarter in 2017...
● Reprieve for 2,963 Canadian waterways
● Grizzly bear trophy hunt banned province-wide
● Air pollution crackdown in Ontario
The Energy East pipeline proposal was abandoned last fall. The project would have crossed almost 3,000 waterways (828 in Quebec alone) endangering the drinking water of 5 million Canadians. The project was abandoned following extensive coverage by National Observer, most notably the explosive revelations that led to the suspension of project hearings, recusal of the chair and members of the National Energy Board and the restaffing of the NEB by the Trudeau government. A full modernization of the agency is now underway.
Grizzly bears are now safe from trophy hunting in British Columbia. For many years, Vancouver and National Observer kept a drumbeat of coverage going on this issue, as testified by the quote up top from Trish Boyum, one of the province’s ecotourism operators. See Jorge Amigo's infographic, "Who killed the trophy hunt?" for more detail.
National Observer's groundbreaking “Price of Oil” collaboration has resulted in action by Ontario government. “Price of Oil” is the largest partnership of its kind ever undertaken in Canada — a project of National Observer along with Global TV, the Toronto Star, the Corporate Mapping project, The Michener Foundation and journalism schools at the universities of Concordia, Ryerson, Regina and British Columbia.
A History of Impact by Observer Media Group
After National Observer's Elizabeth McSheffrey's Kit and Ace furry fiasco story, Kit and Ace said it would investigate the matter, then eventually indicated it could be going fur-free:
The viral investigation was cited widely with links to McSheffrey's in CBC, CTV, Huffington Post, Vancouver Sun, Metro News, Macleans and many other publications.
Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline
Brenda Kenny, the head of Canadian Association of Pipeline Association, recalls that pipelines used to be boring to the Canadian public and free of controversy.
But Vancouver Observer jumped on this coverage early. Carrie Saxifrage took the long bus ride from Vancouver to remote communities in northern B.C. in early 2012 to record in detail the impassioned testimonies of First Nations chiefs at the National Energy Board hearings. She was there to record a speech by the son of an oil executive, Lee Brain (now mayor of Prince Rupert), who opposed the pipeline—the story received international attention, with reporters from Reuters calling Brain for comment. Vancouver Observer captured the drama of Enbridge Northern Gateway early, and made sure to cover the concerns from the angle of First Nations' rights, climate, environment, and economy. Observer Media Group's in-depth reporting was awarded the Canadian Journalism Foundation's Excellence in Journalism prize that year, in part for reporting that raised questions at a time when both the Harper government and oil company associations were actively pressuring pushing media to provide positive coverage of oil pipeline projects and refrain from critical coverage.
Kinder Morgan pipeline
Observer Media was early, again, to cover the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, even when the project was almost free of controversy in 2011. When the protests by a handful of university professors and activists on Burnaby Mountain against the project turned into one of the largest civil protests in recent history in 2014, with over 120 individuals arrested, our reporters were covering the events almost daily, with powerful videos and photos showing the arrest of professors, youth, business owners, seniors, First Nation leaders and family members of environmentalist David Suzuki. Again, we were providing detailed coverage at a time when Postmedia (which owns the only two major newspapers in Greater Vancouver) editorials were denouncing the protests for standing in the way of Canada's economic interests.
Critical coverage of influence, conflicts of interest, and government oversight
Observer Media broke the story that the U.S. oil billionaire Koch brothers had been contributing funds to the right wing think tank, the Fraser Institute, which has a strong media influence across Canada. The story was the first in a series of investigative stories by our reporters that exposed how oil was influencing Canadian democracy. In 2013, we obtained FOI documents showing that the RCMP and National Energy Board were coordinating with Enbridge to monitor environmental activists and citizens who were critical of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
And when we broke the story that Canada's top security watchdog — Security Intelligence Review Committee chair Chuck Strahl — registered as a lobbyist for Enbridge while active in his duties for government, he was forced to resign within a month of our coverage. And in 2015, our team found that disgraced Senator Mike Duffy's diaries contained evidence he was constantly in touch with Enbridge and other oil interests and working as a conduit to the PMO. The story was widely re-reported by CBC, the Ottawa Citizen, the Calgary Herald and Maclean's, and sparked questions in the House of Commons. National Observer's ongoing coverage and series on the National Energy Board showed turmoil within the board as well as decisions that appeared to favour oil companies, and a pattern of off-record meetings with industry, while managing editor Mike De Souza's reporting sparked an investigation that forced Enbridge to reveal information it was trying to keep secret about the company's internal documents.
Observer Media also highlighted major international agreements that would have an impact on energy policy, such as how the recent investment agreement with China (FIPA) would allow China to sue Canada for lost investment if Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline was not built.
Citizenship Law Reforms
Our relentless reporting was one of the main reasons that the Conservative government passed Bill C-24 in 2015. In the bill was a provision to restore citizenship to all legitimate Canadians who were born before 1947—unbeknownst to many Canadians, people who were born abroad to Canadian parents before 1947, including many “war bride” babies, were not considered citizens, and struggled with bureaucracy to obtain a passport or access pensions despite living in Canada for most of their lives. As part of our “Lost Canadians” series, Observer Media asked then-immigration minister Jason Kenney if Canadians who went to fight in World War II were citizens at the time, and he responded they were legally not citizens, which outraged readers. Partially in response to the coverage, the federal government restored citizenship to people born before 1947, helping a number of senior citizens who had been denied their citizenship rights for years up to that point.
As of August 2016, a source revealed that the Liberal government was strongly considering revising the Citizenship law again based on some of the concerns raised by our reporting about the arbitrary and apparently unfair ways in which deserving Canadians are excluded from citizenship.
Observer Media's editor-in-chief, Linda Solomon, made it a strong policy to interview Indigenous people in news stories about energy issues and focus on full, in-depth interviews that allowed them to tell their story, rather than just obtain soundbites. The importance of representing Indigenous voices in news about such projects has been a strong focus of both Vancouver Observer and National Observer.
The House of Irving by Bruce Livesey received considerable feedback from academics and readers in New Brunswick due to the lack of scrutiny of Canada’s fourth richest family over the past few decades. In August 2016, the Maine Sun journal requested permission to republish the “Irvings’ Invasion of Maine” story. University of New Brunswick subscribed in order to use the series in a course in the business school.
CSIS and RCMP spying on environmental groups
This story led to a hearing by the Security Intelligence Review Committee.
This story led to the resignation of Chuck Strahl as Canada’s top spy watchdog.