Cross Country Checkup

CBC journalists name their most memorable non-COVID news stories of the year

CBC journalists David Common, Salimah Shivji, Bob Murphy, Duncan McCue and Adrienne Arsenault pick their most memorable non-COVID-19 news stories of 2020.

What's your pick?

From the Black Lives Matter movement to the Nova Scotia attacks to the Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 plane crash, CBC journalists go through some of their most memorable non-COVID stories of 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images, Robert Short/CBC, STR/AFP via Getty Images)

It's safe to say COVID-19 has stolen most of the headlines in 2020. From the first Canadian case of the virus being reported in January, to the World Health Organization officially characterizing the virus as a pandemic in March, to the first COVID vaccine being administered to Canadians in December, the coronavirus has been at the forefront of Canadian and world news throughout the year. 

This doesn't mean there weren't other memorable stories to have come out of 2020. On the contrary, this year has produced a number of well-discussed and well-covered news stories that have impacted both Canadians and the global population.

With the help of some CBC journalists, below are some of the year's most memorable non-COVID news stories.

Ukraine Flight 752 crash

Mourners console each other during a vigil for the victims of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto, Ontario. (AFP via Getty Images)
CBC reporter Salimah Shivji discusses her biggest non-COVID news story of 2020. 1:30

One of 2020's first major news stories occurred just days into the new year. On Jan. 8, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp mistakenly shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 moments after take off.

All 176 occupants on board the plane, including 138 people with ties to Canada, were killed.

"For me, hearing the stories of how much the community contributed to this country — there were students, teachers, professionals — that hits you hard when you're a journalist born of immigrants to Canada," CBC reporter Salimah Shivji told Cross Country Checkup.

Though the Iranian government initially denied responsibility for the airplane's crash, they later admitted in a statement that a missile operator had mistaken the plane for a "cruise missile."

The plane crash came days after a U.S. airstrike had killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and hours after Iran launched missiles on U.S. bases in Iraq.

Shivji says the pandemic overshadowed the aftermath of the crash, but many questions remain. 

"Why wasn't the airspace closed? What's the chain of command in the Revolutionary Guard? Who was responsible? And from the victims' families, will there be justice?"

Australia wildfires

According to the Parliament of Australia, the Australian wildfires burned over 17 million hectares of land, destroyed over 3,000 houses and killed at least 34 people. (CBC The Passionate Eye)
CBC News correspondent and host David Common discusses his biggest non-COVID news story of 2020. 2:26

For David Common, CBC News correspondent and host, the biggest non-COVID news story of the year were the "extremely fast-moving" wildfires that engulfed Australia in late 2019 and early 2020.

"You could see that it would skip over one home, and yet leave the next completely in ashes — there'd just be a fireplace left," he told Cross Country Checkup

According to the Parliament of Australia, the wildfires burned over 17 million hectares of land and destroyed over 3,000 houses. It also killed at least 34 people, including nine firefighters. 

The World Wide Fund for Nature believes the fires killed or displaced nearly 3 million animals. These include koalas, who Common says couldn't move fast or escape the fire in time.

"I just think back to some of the wildlife sanctuaries that we would visit, and you'd see these severely burned koalas and you'd think they have a shot because they're being so cared for, and then they die four days later or two weeks later," he said.

Nova Scotia attacks

A woman comforts her daughter after they placed flowers at an impromptu memorial in front of the home detachment of RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, one of the people killed in the Nova Scotia attacks. (Tim Krochak/Getty Images)
Maritime Noon host Bob Murphy discusses his biggest non-COVID news story of 2020. 1:35

On April 18 and 19, 22 people were killed in a series of attacks in Nova Scotia. The mass killings — the deadliest in Canada's recent history — spanned 13 hours and 16 locations, and were the work of a lone gunman.

Maritime Noon host Bob Murphy, who called this the year's "biggest non-COVID story," highlighted the crime's randomness and senselessness.

"These were people who were either settling in for the night or getting started the next morning, going about their regular duties, and they were murdered by, of all people, a person dressed up to look like an RCMP officer, someone who we're trained to trust," he told Cross Country Checkup.

Murphy says part of the reason why this story shook people to the core was due to the feeling of vulnerability brought on by the early stages of the pandemic.

"We were all physically distancing, we were all wearing masks, it was all brand new and very strange. And then on top of that, we're now part of the largest mass shooting in the country's modern history," he said. 

"So not only could we not even come together the way we otherwise would to grieve, it suddenly didn't feel like home."

George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement

Activists, some wearing face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, hold signs as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest in London, England. (TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue discusses his most memorable non-COVID story of 2020. 1:55

On May 25, 46-year-old George Floyd died in Minneapolis after police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes.

The death of Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of police sparked protests in Minneapolis, across the United States and the rest of the world. It also reignited the Black Lives Matter movement.

"George Floyd was hardly the first Black man killed by police and not even the first Black man whose death was captured on camera," said Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue, who's currently on leave with Massey College's William Southam Journalism Fellowship.

"But at this particular moment in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic and with Donald Trump as [U.S.] president, the Black Lives Matter movement gathered more steam than ever before, and not just in the United States, but around the world."

McCue said the movement was a "moment of reckoning with waves and waves of impact," and it led to important conversations about BIPOC representation in cultural industries like journalism. 

"Personally, as an indigenous journalist — and I think that's why this story is important — we've been calling for changes in the media industry for a long time, to include more diverse voices and decision makers," he said. "Those changes are starting to happen, and so that makes me really optimistic about the future of media in this country."

Dictators taking advantage of the pandemic

Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga, pictured here during an anti-corruption protest march, was arrested by police in Zimbabwe on July 31 because of a ban on protests coinciding with the anniversary of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's election. (AFP via Getty Images)
The National co-host Adrienne Arsenault discusses her biggest non-COVID news story of 2020. 1:20

For Adrienne Arsenault, the most memorable non-COVID news story of 2020 wasn't one specific event, but rather several events that fit a similar theme.

"To me, one of the biggest non-COVID stories of 2020 was how dictators around the world danced while everyone else was busy washing their hands and social distancing and worrying about their families," The National co-host told Cross Country Checkup.

Arsenault mentions Zimbabwe, where she says COVID-19 was used as an excuse to arrest human rights activists, journalists and opposition members under the guise they were violating lockdowns; and Sri Lanka and Hong Kong, where the virus was blamed for the postponement of "sensitive elections."

"I think so much of this got overlooked in part because a lot of journalists were unable to move around and do their jobs as witnesses, but also because the world has been vulnerable and preoccupied," she said.  

She says these stories matter because there are many people who are fighting oppression, and she feels that one of 2020's cruelties "is that what many of them managed to do is being undone."

What non-COVID stories stick out to you? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Kirthana Sasitharan.

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