Journalist Rachel Mendleson (BJ ’06) has won the Tracey Tyler Award, presented by Innocence Canada for her investigative work on the Motherisk lab. Mendleson’s work in investigating the methodology of the lab sparked a review that ultimately shut the lab down.
Innocence Canada is a non-profit organization of volunteer lawyers that has worked to exonerate 20 innocent people since their founding as The Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted in 1992.
Mendleson’s investigation of the Motherisk lab found that the lab had for years conducted hair drug tests using a methodology that was unsatisfactory. The use of these tests was later deemed to be “inadequate and unreliable” by an appeal court justice. There are potentially thousands of cases from the lab that will be reviewed over the next two years as a result of the findings.
The award is named after legal affairs reporter Tracey Tyler, who over a 25-year career with the Toronto Star had a keen interest in aiding the wrongfully accused and convicted. She died in at age 50 in 2012. Mendleson is the second recipient of the award, after Tyler herself was posthumously awarded the inaugural prize.
“It was a tremendous honour to receive an award named after Tracey Tyler — a consummate beat reporter who never missed a story,” says Mendleson. “Unfortunately, Tracey died shortly before I started at the Star but her legacy has always loomed large for me. Our archives are filled with her justice stories. It’s a body of work that will no doubt continue to instruct and inspire other reporters for years to come.”
Michael Cooke, editor of the Star, esteems Mendleson’s work as being in keeping with Tyler’s legacy.
“This is a shining example of dogged old-fashioned reporting,” he tells the Star. “Rachel kept going in the face of serious and frustrating official blocking and in the end won the day for a good cause: social justice and the truth.”