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1966: Host’s on-air tear hastens end of Seven Days

The Story

It was a single tear, hastily wiped away - but it would cost Laurier LaPierre his job. LaPierre, co-host of CBC Television's This Hour Has Seven Days, was deeply moved by an interview with Doris Truscott. She's the mother of Steven Truscott, who at 14 was the youngest person in Canada to face the death penalty. Seven years later he's still behind bars and receiving monthly visits from his mother, who supports his claim of innocence. LaPierre's reaction - quickly wiping away tears under one eye and speaking in a shaky voice - infuriates CBC president Alphonse Ouimet. The president, already a critic of Seven Days, takes it as proof that LaPierre is "unprofessional." Ouimet even suggests the host was a "good actor" aiming to "heighten further the highly emotional charge of that particular broadcast." Within three weeks, LaPierre and his co-host Patrick Watson learn their contracts won't be renewed.

Medium: Television
Program: This Hour has Seven Days
Broadcast Date: March 20, 1966
Guest(s): Doris Truscott
Host: Laurier LaPierre, Patrick Watson
Interviewer: Roy Fabish
Duration: 2:47

Did You know?

• The CBC current-affairs program This Hour Has Seven Days was the creation of producers Patrick Watson and Douglas Leiterman. Their goal was to make a show which would "bring public affairs to ordinary citizens whose normal viewing is Ed Sullivan and Bonanza."

• Though it was an instant success, CBC president Alphonse Ouimet felt Seven Days was too risky.  Other upper managers felt it did not uphold CBC's standards for responsible journalism.

Seven Days was frequently accused of being sensationalist. Politicians were subjected to the "hot seat" and "badgered into imprudent or revealing remarks." Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson eventually forbade his cabinet ministers from appearing on the program.

• One member of Parliament took aim at the show for glorifying "perversion, pornography, free love, blasphemy, dope, violence, crime and Nazism." Source: The Microphone Wars, Knowlton Nash, 1994

• Laurier LaPierre was a professor of history at McGill University when he was hired as one of two hosts for the program in 1964. The other original host was actor John Drainie. In the show's second (and last) season, producer Patrick Watson stepped into the
host's chair, replacing Drainie.

• According to The Microphone Wars, LaPierre brought to the show "emotion, excitement, and a highly evident, passionate commitment to right wrongs."

• Globe and Mail TV critic Dennis Braithwaite was disgusted by LaPierre's show of emotion. On March 22, 1966, his column (titled "A vulgar show") read: "The purpose here was to cause the unfortunate woman to break down on camera... To her credit, Mrs. Truscott, by an act of superhuman self-control maintained her dignity. Well, somebody had to cry, so Laurier LaPierre obliged - in a scene that will walk away with this year's mawkishness award."

• Enraged by the dismissals of LaPierre and Watson, devoted viewers picketed CBC offices. Others wrote letters, sent telegrams and made phone calls by the thousands to CBC management, Parliament and the prime minister. A parliamentary committee was struck to investigate the dispute, which had escalated to a debate about the rights of producers against the powers of management.

• In July 1966, two months after the end of its second season, Seven Days was no more.

• In 1959, at age 14, Steven Truscott was tried in court as an adult and convicted for the murder of 12-year-old Lynn Harper. The case against him was circumstantial, but he was sentenced to death.

• Canadians were outraged by the death sentence. Pierre Berton condemned it in a poem called Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old. One section reads: "We've a national law/ In the name of the Queen/ To hang a child/ Who is just fourteen."

• In 1960 Prime Minister John Diefenbaker commuted Truscott's sentence to life in prison.

• In March 1966, Parliament began a debate on the death penalty. It led to a 1967 law commuting all existing death sentences to life in prison. In 1976, the death penalty was abolished altogether.

• In 1969, at age 24, Truscott was released from prison. He lived under an assumed name until 2000, when CBC's The Fifth Estate told his story.

• In late 2004, after a concerted campaign by the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, Truscott's case was put to the Ontario Court of Appeal for a judicial review. Hearings into the 1959 conviction began in June 2006.

• Truscott was finally acquitted of murder on August 28, 2007. In July 2008, Ontario's attorney general announced that Truscott would be awarded $6.5 million in compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment.


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