Sarah Cox CJF Jackman Award The Narwhal Site C

The Narwhal’s Site C dam investigation wins Canadian Journalism Foundation award for exemplary journalism

Sarah Cox’s ‘ground-breaking reporting’ to expose secrecy around B.C.’s most expensive public infrastructure project was recognized with the Jackman Award

The Narwhal was honoured for its contributions to excellence in journalism at the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s awards gala on Wednesday night. 

The Narwhal received the award in the small media category for B.C. investigative reporter Sarah Cox’s tenacious reporting on the Site C dam, the most expensive public infrastructure project in the province’s history, which has been plagued by repeated budget increases and a lack of transparency that has drawn criticism from hydro experts across North America. 

The Jackman Award honours news organizations that “embody exemplary journalism and have a profound positive impact on the communities they serve.”

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“I’m incredibly honoured to win this award for The Narwhal,” Cox said.

“The Site C dam is a hugely expensive publicly funded project that is largely out of sight and out of mind for British Columbians. The project has proceeded without due process, and under a veil of secrecy, with almost no transparency or public accountability. The project is a classic illustration of the importance of investigative journalism.”

“I’m very grateful that the Canadian Journalism Foundation has recognized The Narwhal’s work, largely through freedom of information requests, to provide some transparency for the public and to hold the government accountable for repeated decisions to continue building the dam despite its escalating price tag, continuing questions about its stability, the lack of demand for its power, its unprecedented environmental footprint, and the lack of free, prior and informed consent from First Nations when the project was approved.”

Cox’s investigation hinged on months of work to receive 2,247 pages of never-before-released information about Site C. Scrolling through the pages one by one, Cox found documents from the project’s technical advisory board which detailed a “significant risk” associated with the dam’s stability due to its “weak foundation.” 

The documents revealed senior officials in the B.C. energy and finance ministries had known about the deepening geotechnical problems and the exhaustion of the project’s contingency fund for more than one year before the public was finally informed. The resulting story prompted widespread coverage from other media outlets, including the CBC, The Globe and Mail and Vancouver Sun, all of whom referenced The Narwhal’s reporting.

Harry Swain, who served as chair of the federal-provincial panel that reviewed the Site C dam, said the documents obtained and made public by Cox have had a significant impact on public debate about the Site C dam.

“Until this article was published in The Narwhal, no one outside of BC Hydro and the provincial government was allowed to know that the government’s project assurance board was composed entirely of insiders, or what they reported; or that BC Hydro relied on uncompleted engineering contracts with firms some of their senior managers had worked for.”

Swain said, because of her investigative reporting, Cox is “more of a public servant than many who call that their profession.”

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

This is the second major honour Cox has received for her Site C investigation. In May, she was named the co-winner of the 2021 Press Freedom Award from World Press Freedom Canada for her efforts to overcome government secrecy.

The Narwhal’s reporting on Site C was 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, the Jackman Award went to The Globe and Mail for its series investigating why Ottawa and the Public Health Agency were unable to respond effectively to the COVID-19 crisis despite Canada’s heavy investment in pandemic preparedness after the SARS outbreak. Other finalists included CTV News Calgary, Montreal Gazette, the Toronto Star/Investigative Journalism Bureau and the Winnipeg Free Press.

The Narwhal is an independent, non-profit publication supported by more than 3,300 readers and as Canada’s first English-language Registered Journalism Organization can now issue charitable tax receipts to those who support our work.

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