Ron Haggart (Canada)

Vox Libera Award
Ron Haggart
May 11, 1927 – August 27, 2011

When rioting Kingston Penitentiary prisoners wanted their grievances heard in 1971, they called on Toronto Telegram columnist Ron Haggart to tell their story. He had a reputation for seeking – and telling – the truth that apparently everyone respected. Ron accepted the dangerous invitation and, along with four lawyers, spent four tense days inside Kingston Pen mediating an end to the prison uprising. He is credited with playing a key role in averting a bloodbath, and his gripping account of the riot earned him a National Newspaper Award.

“Mr. Haggart used powers of persuasion like I have never seen before, even in a court of law,” said Prof. J. Desmond Morton of Osgoode Hall Law School, a member of the hastily convened citizens’ committee that helped resolve the Kingston crisis, in an interview with the Toronto Telegram. “He was responsible for maintaining contact with the prisoners. He kept them talking.”

Ron died 40 years later “a fearless titan” and “one of the few remaining legends of journalism,” who spent years focused on civil liberties, labour, government and the complexity of human beings. He was known for his sharp intellect, stunning memory for detail and stubborn insistence on getting the story.

Born in Vancouver in 1927, Ron began his journalism career in the student press – as a young boy convinced that the windows should be open in his grade school, and later as editor of the University of British Columbia student newspaper. From there he rode the communication wave, first as a crusading print reporter and columnist, then as a pioneering television producer. He wrote for the Vancouver Sun, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Tely, and was a prolific correspondent, as friends and newspaper editors here and abroad can attest. With Toronto lawyer Aubrey Golden, he co-authored the controversial book Rumours of War, which chastised the Trudeau government for violating civil liberties during the 1970 October Crisis.

On the broadcast side, Ron produced Citytv’s nightly news program in the early 1970s before joining CBC as a founding senior producer of the fifth estate. For 13 years, he helped forge the program’s reputation for in-depth, provocative reporting. Later, as co-executive producer of the debate shows Face Off and counterSpin and a consultant for independent media outlets, Ron taught a whole new generation of journalists to be relentless in their craft and fearless against injustice.

Perhaps William Donkin, former York County legal aid director, put it best after serving with Ron on the Kingston Pen negotiating team: “That man was magnificent.”

Paula Todd is a Canadian journalist and lawyer who sits on the CJFE Board of Directors. She nominated Ron Haggart for this prestigious award.

Vox Libera Award
The Vox Libera Award is granted to a Canadian who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the principles of free expression and who has had made an important and sustained contribution – at home or abroad – to those same principles.