A story about a man with mental illness banished by a judge from Nelson has earned CBC Radio’s Bob Keating the Jack Webster award for excellence in legal journalism.
In January, Keating reported on Michael Arrak, 27, diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, who was ordered to leave town to complete a probation sentence for criminal harassment. A judge gave him a deadline to be on a Greyhound bus.
Arrak’s mother Annely contacted Keating from the courthouse.
“She was almost in tears. To be honest, I didn’t believe it. I’d never heard of such a thing,” Keating said Tuesday from Vancouver following the awards ceremony.
“I went down and she showed me the order. It floored me that in this day and age someone could be banished from town. It was like a Gary Cooper movie.”
As a result of Keating’s story, however, the courts reversed the order, and also revoked Arrak’s guilty plea.
“I think the court system tried to do what was best, but they just rushed things,” Keating says. “[Arrak] was seen by duty counsel, which means he met his lawyer for the first time and probably spent five minutes with him. This seemed like the expedient thing to do, but as his mother said, it was perhaps condemning him to the Downtown Eastside.”
Keating says the story was another demonstration of how ill-equipped the courts are to deal with mental health issues — something everyone involved admitted, including Judge Ron Fabbro.
“He said he sees these cases daily but this is a justice system, not a mental health system. It’s a real issue in BC right now — one of the biggest issues our justice system faces. So many people with mental health issues are ending up in the wrong place. This is a prime example.”
Keating says he still sees Arrak on the street in Nelson and talks to him, and he seems to be doing better.
It was Keating’s third nomination for the Websters, which have been awarded since 1986 to recognize excellence in BC journalism.
He was previously cited for his investigative series on the collapse of Salmo’s Labyrinth Lumber, and two years ago for the story of Sam Brown, a local mountain bike enthusiast and drug runner who died in police custody in Spokane.
Keating says he was happy to finally pick up the prize. “I was thrilled. It’s a cliché to say it’s nice to be nominated but it is — the award ceremony is fun, I get to see my peers, and a trip to Vancouver — but it’s nice to win one.”
The Websters are probably BC’s most prestigious journalism awards and come with the glitziest ceremony.
“It’s remarkable,” Keating says. “I said in my acceptance speech ‘I can’t believe this many people want to get dressed up and hang out with journalists on a Monday night.’”
Lloyd Robertson gave the keynote address while Shane Foxman and Tony Parsons were co-emcees.
Keating was not the only local in the mix at the Websters this year: Jon Steinmann, host of Kootenay Co-op Radio’s Deconstructing Dinner was nominated for best community reporting for his expose of Eggs R Uz, a Wynndel business marketing free-range eggs.
Steinmann’s undercover investigation revealed there were no chickens on the property at all, and the eggs were actually coming from industrial producers in Alberta.
Soon after the story aired, Eggs R Uz closed and gave up its egg grading registration certificate.
Keating called Steinmann’s nomination an extraordinary honour for a volunteer journalist.
Former Express editor Ethan Baron, now a columnist with The Province, also received the City Mike Award as commentator of the year.
The Websters are named for the late Jack Webster, who worked in print, radio, and TV for over 40 years.