General + Regulatory + Telecom + Media NewsMichael Geist, staff of Maryland's Capital Gazette among CJFE honourees

Michael Geist, staff of Maryland’s Capital Gazette among CJFE honourees

Canadian academic and digital rights activist Michael Geist is among those who’ll be recognized this week by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).

CJFE is hosting its annual gala in Toronto on Nov. 29 where Geist, along with murdered Mexican investigative journalist Javier Valdez and the staff of Maryland’s Capital Gazette, which was the target of a mass shooting in June, will be honoured.

Geist, Research Chair in E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, and founder of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, is receiving the Vox Libera Award, given to a Canadian individual or organization that has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the principles of free expression and made an important and sustained contribution – at home or abroad – to those same principles.

“He successfully led the fight against 2007 legislation that would incorporate the worst aspects of the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act into Canadian law, was a leader in the fight against Bill C-51 and C-31, is actively fighting the dangerous Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, and is also leading the charge to maintain net neutrality against lobbying from Canada’s largest telecoms,” said CJFE president Phil Tunley in a press release. “Despite his incredible career, Geist has never been recognized by our organization in any formal fashion. The timing is right for him to win this award because of his tireless work to maintain freedom of the press right here at home.”

International Press Freedom Award

Javier Valdez will posthumously receive the International Press Freedom Award. One of the leading anti-corruption and anti-gang journalists in Mexico, Valdez was gunned down in May 2017 outside Riodoce, the newspaper he founded and continued to work at despite many death threats.

The award will be accepted by Valdez’s wife, Griselda Triana.

Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award

The staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland will receive this year’s Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award. On June 29, 2018, a gunman entered the Capital Gazette and opened fire, killing four journalists and one sales assistant.

The Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award recognizes a Canadian journalist who, through his or her work, has made an important contribution to reinforcing and promoting the principle of freedom of the press in Canada or elsewhere, and who has taken personal risks or suffered physical reprisals for their work.

“It’s normally awarded to Canadians, but this year we selected Capital Gazette staff because of their incredible work and the horrendous circumstances,” said Tunley. “The story of the Capital Gazette is illustrative of the dangers of the incredibly polarized political landscape and mistrust of journalists currently ongoing in North America today.”

The victims were:

  • Robert Hiaasen, 59,
    • Assistant editor and Sunday columnist
    • He was a veteran reporter known as a mentor to younger staff at the newspaper and taught journalism at the University of Maryland
  • Gerald Fischman, 61
    • Editorial page editor
    • Worked at the paper for more than 25 years
    • Had won awards from the Maryland Press Association for articles about a County Council member accused of censoring public comments
  • John McNamara, 56
    • Reporter
    • Worked at the paper for more than 20 years
    • Worked on general assignment, loved editing, designing and writing about everything from sports to local politics
  • Wendi Winters, 65
    • Editor and community reporter
    • Worked in PR and ran her own business before joining the paper as a journalist
  • Rebecca Smith, 34
    • Sales Assistant

While known as a small, collegial paper that focuses on light community news, the Gazette also acts as a watchdog for the state capital.

The shooter, Jarrod W. Ramos, had been fighting with newspapers for years. He issued a defamation lawsuit in 2011 for a story about harassment charges against him. He had been threatening newspaper staff since the case was dismissed in 2015.

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Connie Thiessen
Connie Thiessen
Connie has worked coast-to-coast as a reporter, editor, anchor and host at CKNW and News 1130 in Vancouver, News 95.7 and CBC in Halifax, and CFCW Edmonton, among other stations. With a passion for music, film and community service, she led News 95.7 to a 2013 Atlantic Journalism Award and regional RTDNA award for Best Radio Newscast. More recently, she was nominated for Music Journalist of the Year at Canadian Music Week 2019. To report a typo or error please email -

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