Winner: Susan Clairmont, Hamilton Spectator
With a clear, empathetic voice and an eye for detail, Susan Clairmont carefully guides readers down the path of one Hamilton family’s tragedy. An adult son, on the edge of financial ruin after exhausting all of his options — his schemes; his remaining shreds of goodwill — is convicted of burning his mother and stepfather to death in their own home. Clairmont avoids dramatic literary flourishes, holding fast with a straightforward prose that fixes the spotlight squarely on the depth of the reporting. There are questions that will never be fully answered, either by the courts or by the family left behind, but Clairmont mines court documents and interviews to create a comprehensive narrative. There is a strong connection to the material and, with the evident trust built with the family, Clairmont provides the community a means to better understand a terrible event that unfolded in its midst.
Runner-up: Grant LaFleche, Hamilton Spectator
A celebrated community leader who has rubbed elbows with the mayor is fired as the lead executive at a local retirement home. Shortly after his departure, pay stubs arrive at the normal time but with names that do not seem familiar to anyone on staff. Grant LaFleche unpacks the fallout in a brilliant financial whodunnit. Having gained access to confidential documents — as well as sources inside the retirement facility — LaFleche explores how at least three so-called “ghost” employees landed on the payroll and where their very real salaries were deposited. In the aftermath of COVID-19, amid hope the public was finally paying attention to these facilities and the vulnerable citizens in their care, LaFleche describes how at least $1.2 million slipped out the door without anyone knowing. The money is tracked back to the deposed executive, who died, suddenly, after questions were raised. LaFleche never lets the cold, hard numbers overshadow the real people who are left to suffer the consequences.
Runner-up: Nicole O’Reilly and Matthew Van Dongen, Hamilton Spectator
Dogged reporting had, at last, forced the city to make public a report it had tried to keep quiet. It had to do with the Red Hill Valley Parkway, which the report found to become unusually slippery whenever it got wet. It was a clear safety issue, and ran counter to messaging the city had been spreading. Reporters Nicole O’Reilly and Matthew Van Dongen refused to allow concerns over road safety in Hamilton grow quiet, with a series of stories that provided needed context to readers and residents about the risks they were being asked to take whenever they crossed the road.