Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award
Kim BolanThis year's Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award winner knew from an early age that writing was in her future. What she hadn't counted was that her stories would end up attracting death threats.
Vancouver Sun crime reporter Kim Bolan first encountered threats while reporting on the terrorist bombing of an Air India flight over Irish air space in June 1985 in which 328 people were killed. She faced even more threats years later when she was reporting on the activities of Metro Vancouver's notorious gangs.
Her sense of injustice at these wrongs has propelled her 33-year career at The Vancouver Sun.
"It's the sense that something terrible has happened and that people (the victims and their families) have been impacted beyond belief and they deserved to have some form of justice," she said. "Sometimes, they don't get that justice because Canadian institutions are letting them down."
Her career started innocently enough as a high school correspondent in her Vancouver Island hometown of Courtenay. That was followed by freelance stringing for The Victoria Times, and even a short stint as a sports reporter taking her own pictures while writing up rugby and field hockey games for the suburban Victoria Oak Bay Star to pay her way through university.
It was after she started at The Vancouver Sun in 1984, as a temporary reporter competing with other temps for permanent work, that an all-important break came. It was a made-in-Canada story, with mass local protests against an event on the other side of the world: the Indian Army's assault on an occupation of the Golden Temple at Amritsar in which at least 83 people were killed and hundreds injured.
Until 9/11, the Air India bombing was the most devastating example of aviation terrorism in the history of the world, and it was happening in Canada, best known before as a place of peace and natural beauty. She learned that bad things happened to good people, even in Canada, as she knocked on doors and interviewed members of the victims' families.
She also remembers Ujjal Donsanjh, the MLA, MP and briefly, B.C. premier, being savagely beaten for opposing Sikh political extremists. "Seeing someone like Dosanjh get beaten for what he believed in - and holding a news conference from his hospital bed - it really profoundly affected me."
History repeated itself when Tara Singh Hayer, an outspoken Indo-Canadian journalist and publisher who wrote stories about the Air India bombing, was gunned down in his driveway in November 1998. He remains the only Canadian journalist to be assassinated for what he wrote, she said.
She is still amazed - and made it the subject of a book, Loss of Faith: How the Air India Bombers Got Away with Murder - that the Canadian political elite and the country's law enforcement and spy agencies failed through incompetence and indifference to effectively investigate and prosecute those responsible for the bombing.
Meanwhile she was afforded police protection for her role in reporting on Air India and the later inquiry into how it was investigated.
Those death threats arose again as she switched gears to report on gang violence in Metro Vancouver, including the execution-style deaths of six people in a Surrey condominium in 2009. She was later to receive in her newsroom a plastic bag containing a dead rat and a note stating she would die if she continued writing and reporting on gang violence.
Still, she will not be intimidated. She downplays the importance of the threats, noting they come and go.
The Hutchison award is one of six she has received from the Webster Foundation for her courageous work as a journalist. She has also been recognized with a Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media Foundation, the First Press Freedom Award from the National Press Club of Canada, two National Newspaper Awards and two CAJ awards.
See the dinner presentation video for Kim Bolan.
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