Sarah Cox World Press Freedom Award Site C dam investigation

The Narwhal’s Sarah Cox wins World Press Freedom Award for Site C dam investigation

The honour from World Press Freedom Canada is a recognition of Cox’s efforts to overcome secrecy and inform the public about lingering problems with the hydro megaproject in northeastern B.C.

The Narwhal’s B.C. investigative reporter Sarah Cox has been named co-winner of the 2021 Press Freedom Award for her tenacious coverage of B.C.’s Site C dam, World Press Freedom Canada announced on Monday. 

“Sarah’s work on Site C in bringing to light issues of public interest demonstrates again that journalism matters,” World Press Freedom Canada president Shawn McCarthy said. “And that independent media like The Narwhal play a vital role in the media landscape.”

The Narwhal is a pioneer of non-profit journalism in Canada and is supported by nearly 3,000 monthly members

Cox was recognized for her relentless reporting on the megaproject in northeastern B.C. that has been shrouded in secrecy. In awarding the prize, the committee highlighted her investigation from last fall, which revealed public officials knew about escalating geotechnical problems with Site C more than a year before that information was shared with the public.

“The committee was deeply impressed with Sarah’s persistence and tenacity in getting access to the Site C documents that revealed the depths of problems at the megaproject,” McCarthy said. “Sarah has led on this story all along, and the article from the documents obtained under access to information demonstrated the resounding impacts such dedicated reporting can have.”

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World Press Freedom Canada awarded the prize to Cox for her Site C coverage and to Globe and Mail correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe for his reporting on forced labour camps in Xinjiang, China.

The honours, announced on World Press Freedom Day, recognize outstanding achievements by Canadian media workers who produce public-interest journalism while overcoming secrecy, intimidation, refusal to comply with freedom of information requests or other efforts to foil their work.

Cox’s investigation was based on 2,247 pages of documents — but getting a hold of them was no easy feat. After hitting a wall with BC Hydro on her request, and when legal deadlines for a response had passed, Cox appealed to the B.C. Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The office told BC Hydro to release the information, setting the stage for their delivery and the subsequent reporting.

“I’m extremely honoured to receive the World Press Freedom prize,” said Cox, who vowed to continue covering the goings-on behind what’s now the most expensive hydro project in Canadian history.

“The veil of secrecy has not been lifted,” Cox said. “The public deserves to know how public money is being spent, who is profiting from the project and whether or not a decision to continue building the dam was in the public interest.”

“With the generous support of our members, we’ll continue to shine a spotlight on expenditures from the public purse and investigate who knew what and when.”

For his part, VanderKlippe was recognized for reporting extensively from Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been sent to detention camps, ordered to perform forced labour and barred from practicing their religion. VanderKlippe risked detention and evaded attempts to bar him from the region in order to document China’s repression campaign.

Citations of merit were also given to journalists at the Toronto Star and Calgary Herald for their efforts to obtain documents to report on court cases and financial abuses, respectively.

Vancouver Sun crime reporter Kim Bolan was honoured with the Spencer Moore Award for Lifetime Achievement.

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