CBC Edmonton series on Pure North earns Michener Award nomination

CBC Edmonton has been nominated for the 2017 Michener Award for stories about government grants to a private health foundation.

'Journalism matters and investigative journalism matters now more than ever'

Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell are investigative reporters with CBC Edmonton. (CBC)

Updated: May 25, 2022. After publication of this story, Pure North filed a defamation lawsuit against the CBC, the Dietitians of Canada, and some of their employees. In March 2020, Pure North discontinued its claim against the Dietitians of Canada issued a clarification statement which relates to the story below. In May 2022, Pure North discontinued its claims against the CBC and its employees. While CBC stands behind the accuracy of its reporting, the CBC has agreed with Pure North to provide a link to a statement where Pure North provides an additional response to the article below and related coverage. 

A 14-month investigation by CBC Edmonton into a controversial private health foundation has been named as one of eight finalists for the prestigious 2017 Michener Award for public-service journalism.

In their investigative project, Private Health, Public Risk?, CBC investigative journalists Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell revealed serious irregularities involving grants to Pure North, the private alternative-health foundation of wealthy Calgary oilman Allan Markin.

The investigation revealed that in 2013, Alberta's then-health minister Fred Horne approved a $10-million grant to Pure North to expand its unproven alternative-health program to thousands of seniors.

Internal government documents showed Horne made the decision against the advice of ministry officials who had determined the Pure North program, which features high doses of vitamin D, was not adequately supported by science, could not prove the incredible health and economic benefits it claimed, and could cause adverse health effects in participants.

In 2016, Alberta Health gave Pure North $4.2-million to fund a nurse-practitioner clinic as part of a pilot project. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman insisted Pure North was not allowed to offer any alternative treatments at the clinic.

Hoffman cancelled funding to the clinic the same day CBC revealed a 74-year-old woman had been prescribed a high dose of vitamin D at the clinic. Pure North claims it was allowed to offer the treatment, and says its program is safe, effective, and supported by credible science.

The auditor general also conducted an investigation into the grants to Pure North and confirmed much of CBC's reporting.

Rusnell and Russell say they are honoured to be nominated and they praised the many sources who came forward with information that was critical to their investigation.

"This investigation would never have been done; this information would never have been revealed if someone had not contacted us," Russell said Tuesday in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"Journalism matters and investigative journalism matters now more than ever," she said.

The Michener Award was founded in 1970 by the late Roland Michener when he was Canada's governor general. It honours excellence in public-service journalism.

The judges' decisions are heavily influenced by the degree of public benefit generated by the print, broadcast, and online entries submitted for consideration.

The award is presented to news organizations rather than to individual journalists.

Other nominees for the 2017 award include Cogeco Media, Global News, the Toronto Star and the Vancouver Sun. The Globe and Mail is nominated for three investigations.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette will host the Michener Awards ceremony at Rideau Hall on June 12.

The Pure North investigation is also nominated for the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF) Jackman Award for Excellence in Journalism, in the large-media category. The award recognizes news organizations that embody exemplary journalism that impacts positively the communities they serve.

The CJF award will be presented in Toronto on June 14.