The Peter Bryce Prize for Whistleblowing is awarded annually by the Centre for Free Expression to honour individuals who serve the greater good by courageously speaking up about wrongdoing and abuses of public trust.
The prize is named after Dr. Peter H. Bryce, an early Canadian whistleblower who, in 1907, spoke up about appalling public health conditions in residential schools.
As part of our support for the Student Press Freedom Act BC Campaign, FIPA is proud to have nominated Spencer Izen and Jessica Kim from the SPFA for their ongoing work as detailed in this submission from our president.
From FIPA President Mike Larsen
Spencer Izen and Jessica Kim are high school journalists in British Columbia. They organized a campaign to establish Canada’s first student journalism protection legislation, the Student Press Freedom Act. As part of their organizing and advocacy, the two have reached out to a wide range of Canadian organizations involved in transparency and press freedom work and the SPFA campaign has, in a short time, received considerable support, accolades, and attention.
The SPFA campaign arose in response to a May 2021 incident in which The Griffins’ Nest Newspaper, an independent, student-led newspaper based at Eric Hamber Secondary School in Vancouver, BC, was censored by school administration after reporting on the lack of student and teacher involvement in the Vancouver School Board’s District-level decision-making processes. Spencer Izen and Jessica Kim are the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, respectively, of The Griffin’s Nest. The editorial team sought to report on a matter of public interest, and their work was met with interference and censorship. The reporting raised important critical questions about VSB governance and accountability, and the censored article (subsequently published in its entirety) opened with the following paragraph:
“Students and teachers lack legitimate forums to make themselves heard in the Vancouver School Board’s decision-making process. For the most part, teachers and students believe they are excluded from the decision-making process, and that their opinions are not valued, even when the VSB states their involvement is “extremely important” to them.”
Journalists and transparency advocates in Canada are used to dealing with spin, flak, and opacity when reporting on government bodies and institutional practices. In Spencer and Jessica’s case, however, the VSB took the additional step of involving their school principal, who sought to exercise control over their reporting. Their commitment to principles of journalistic independence and integrity was placed in tension with the clear power imbalance that exists between students and school officials. Instead of backing down and choosing the path of least resistance, Spencer and Jessica reached out to civil liberties organizations for support, published the uncensored article in its entirety, and got to work preparing a draft piece of legislation – the Student Press Freedom Act – that is intended to clarify and enshrine in law the journalistic rights of student journalists.
The SPFA recognizes the importance of student journalism and the risks student journalists take when reporting on and from within educational institutions that have a vested interest in managing their image and reputation. Whether the SPFA campaign will be embraced by BC legislators remains to be seen, but I am of the opinion that Spencer and Jessica’s efforts exemplify the spirit of speaking truth to power that is honoured by the Peter Bryce Prize. It takes effort to edit a student newspaper. It takes courage to stand up to censorship. It takes vision, passion, and a real commitment to transparency to draft legislation and mobilize a coalition to protect journalistic freedom. As a long-time transparency advocate, I find the work of these student journalists to be inspiring and deserving of recognition.