Police misconduct has affected the lives of thousands. It is an ongoing threat to the material security of Canadians, particularly those who are Black and Indigenous.

Today, Ricochet is pleased to announce it has won the prestigious 2021 Michener-Deacon investigative fellowship from the Michener Awards Foundation to study the issue. The foundation’s fellowships are intended to “encourage excellence in public service journalism.”

The fellowship provides up to $45,000 of funding for an in-depth investigative journalism project that “serves the public interest through improvements in public policy, ethical standards, corporate governance or the lives of Canadians.”

“The Michener-Deacon investigative project will try to determine how deep a problem police misconduct is in Canada, and examine the role of public accountability structures around policing,” said the foundation in a release. “The panel of judges was impressed with the team of independent-minded journalists Ricochet put together from all across Canada; the project’s original data-driven analysis; and the inclusion of victims’ point of view.”

Ricochet’s investigative project, to be led by editors Ethan Cox and Erin Seatter, focuses on a data-driven analysis of incidents of alleged misconduct by Canadian police officers. The project will seek to provide a national picture of how often misconduct occurs and how often officers face consequences as a result.

This data will then be combined with testimonials from victims and families about the impact of police actions on their lives, producing reporting that integrates both quantitative and qualitative elements to provide a detailed analysis of police conduct in Canada.

“We see pieces of this story reported on a regular basis,” said Cox. “But we don’t have the full picture. What we want to do is map the available data, identify gaps in what’s available, and provide an overview of the issue that can be used by academics, journalists, policy-makers and most importantly the general public.”

“This is a burning social issue in Canada, and in the past year we’ve seen increased public discussions about rising police budgets,” said Seatter. “We want to give everyone involved in these conversations better data on the scope of the issue and the impact of police actions on communities.”

Few topics are as galvanizing to the public. Videos of police misconduct routinely go viral on social media, and a spirited public debate has emerged about proposals to defund the police and their role in society more generally. Polls show Canadians close to evenly split on these issues, but the debate is ongoing and governments will try to respond to these concerns in the years to come.

Reporting on the scope of the problem, the state of accountability and democratic oversight of police and the impact of these issues on real people in our communities will contribute to this public dialogue and help inform policy makers, commentators and activists alike.

Fellowship recipients are traditionally honoured at the annual Michener Awards ceremony at Rideau Hall, hosted by the Governor-General of Canada. Due to the ongoing pandemic, that ceremony will be held online in June.

This fellowship represents the fourth national award Ricochet has received for investigative journalism over the past three years.

Ricochet would like to thank the distinguished panel of judges who saw merit in this project, and congratulate Allison Baker and Viviane Fairbank, who won the Michener-L. Richard O’Hagan Fellowship for Journalism Education. Their winning proposal will “support the creation of a book-length version of The Walrus Fact-Checking Guide, establishing guidelines and a common reporting and verification methodology to train journalists, academics and the public.”

You can read more about both projects in the foundation’s press release.