Noted contrarian journalist Ron Haggart dies

Ron Haggart, the fearless and outspoken Toronto journalist and television news producer, has died at the age of 84.
Ron Haggart in 1981. ((CBC Still Photo Collection) )
Ron Haggart, the fearless and outspoken Toronto journalist and television news producer, has died at the age of 84.

Haggart died Saturday at Toronto Western Hospital, the Toronto Star reported.

Born in Vancouver in 1927, Haggart began his career in journalism in the student press, while attending the University of British Columbia.

He started his professional career in the 1950s, spending decades as a print reporter and columnist, then switching over to a career in television news.

"Ron was one of those legendary gruff, tell-em-as-it-is reporters and columnists who delighted in controversy and was never afraid to ruffle feathers," John Honderich, chair of Torstar's board of directors, said in a statement.

As a print reporter, Haggart wrote for the Vancouver Sun, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Toronto Telegram. He also lent his voice to radio talk shows, speaking out against concentration of media ownership and the government’s military ambitions.

"The mindset that war is inevitable scars our psyches and ruins our concept of normality," he said in an appearance on CBC Radio in 1961, as he urged Canadians to reject nuclear warfare.

"The only choice today is peace."

Haggart’s first-person account of a Kingston Penitentiary riot, during which prison guards were held hostage by inmates, earned him a National Newspaper Award in 1971.

That same year, he co-authored the book Rumours of War, which went against the grain and lashed out against the Trudeau government for violating civil liberties during the 1970 October Crisis.

After that pivotal year, Haggart made the leap to television journalism.

In 1972, he joined Citytv in the Toronto station’s early days, blending in-depth local reporting, interviews and debates to create his nightly news program. An early promotional advertisement promised that "Our City Show with Ron Haggart will try to speak clearly on those issues that confront you and your immediate world."

Haggart joined the CBC in 1975, the year The Fifth Estate made its debut. He helped establish the investigative news program’s tradition of provocative journalism. He also served as co-executive producer of the debate show Faceoff (later developed into Counterspin), which put its expert guests in the hot seat.

Haggart remained with the CBC until his retirement in 1991. In his later years, he remained active as a journalistic consultant for independent media outlets like the Real News Network.

Colleagues remember Haggart as a sharp and principled journalist, who often repeated the phrase, "that which 'everybody knows' is usually false."