Sarah Cox The Narwhal Jackman Award

The Narwhal named finalist for CJF Jackman Award for Excellence in Journalism

The Narwhal is recognized for ‘ground-breaking reporting’ based on freedom of information requests on the Site C dam, the most expensive public infrastructure project in B.C.’s history

Investigative reporting can be dull. 

While we see the flashiest bits of investigative journalism in scandal-ridden headlines, the truth of the matter is digging for information in mostly-redacted PDFs and maintaining an Excel spreadsheet to track Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and delays is a high form of drudgery. 

For that reason, it takes a special kind of tenacious reporter to chase down the big stories and bring to light the documents governments don’t want the public to see. 

The Narwhal’s B.C. investigative reporter Sarah Cox has just that kind of stick-to-itness and on Thursday her work to expose secrecy around B.C.’s Site C dam was recognized for excellence by the Canadian Journalism Foundation.

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The foundation shortlisted Cox’s ongoing investigative reporting on Site C — including an investigative feature which found top B.C. officials were worried about the “significant risk” of geotechnical problems at the dam more than a year before that information was made public — for the Jackman Award, which honours news organizations that “embody exemplary journalism and have a profound positive impact on the communities they serve.”

“The Site C project is a classic illustration of the importance of investigative journalism,” said Cox, who appealed to the B.C. Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to have thousands of pages of documents released under freedom of information legislation after legal deadlines had passed. “From who is getting multi-million-dollar direct award Site C contracts to who-knew-what-and-when, the public deserves to have answers.”

The Narwhal published all 2,247 pages of those documents. They can be accessed at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Cox’s investigation prompted an explosion of reporting on geotechnical problems at Site C in major media outlets across Canada, including The Globe and Mail and CBC. 

The Site C dam is the most expensive hydro dam in Canada’s history but  not nearly the biggest. Ongoing slope instability issues have played a significant role in the project’s escalating price tag, which has grown from $6.6 billion in 2010 to $16 billion (and counting) in 2021. 

“The publicly funded Site C dam has been shrouded in secrecy from day one,” Cox said. “Important information about the project has been withheld from the public at every step of the way, including information about profound geotechnical issues and the astronomical cost.”

“I’m truly honoured to have my work acknowledged in this way and so grateful for The Narwhal,” Cox added. “Behind every story you read is a team of amazing people: doing editing and layout and finding photographs, devising social media strategies and reaching out to readers to become monthly members so we can continue to report on the Site C dam and other important issues of public interest.”

The Narwhal is an independent, non-profit publication supported by more than 3,000 readers and as Canada’s first English-language Registered Journalism Organization can now issue charitable tax receipts to those who support our work

The Narwhal’s reporting on Site C is shortlisted among other small newsroom finalists for the Jackman Award, including CANADALAND for its reporting on the WE organization scandal, Open Canada for an investigation into Syrian refugees and the politics around sponsorship and settlement, The Tyee for an investigation into the RCMP’s Project Wide Awake surveillance program and Waterloo Region Record for an investigation into Canada’s last suspected Nazi war criminal

In the large newsroom category, finalists for the Jackman Award include CTV News Calgary, The Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette, the Toronto Star/Investigative Journalism Bureau and the Winnipeg Free Press.

Winners of the award will be announced at the virtual CJF Awards ceremony on June 9 at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET.

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