We’re proud to announce that journalist Fatima Syed’s work for The Local has been awarded the prestigious 2022 Press Freedom Award by advocacy group World Press Freedom Canada (WPFC). The award will be presented to Syed and publisher and editor-in-chief Tai Huynh in a ceremony in Ottawa today.

The prize recognizes Syed’s three feature stories covering the pandemic in Peel in the spring of 2021, “You Can’t Stop the Spread of the Virus if You Don’t Stop it in Peel,”The Chaotic Race to Vaccinate Peel,” and “We Had to Save Ourselves.”

“Prior to Fatima writing her stories, we’d seen data showing the huge disparity in Peel—huge infection rates, not enough vaccines,” said Huynh. “Despite being one of the biggest municipalities in the country and home to large numbers of essential workers who kept the economy moving, the issues in Peel weren’t being reported by any of the major media outlets. I’m proud The Local was able to bring these stories to light, thanks to the generous support of the Vohra Miller Foundation which funded the series.”

Syed’s stories are among the most read in The Local’s history. Her reporting rippled through the country and inspired stories in the mainstream media. Two weeks after Syed’s first story was published, the Ontario government decided to allocate 50 percent of vaccines to hot spot postal codes—with Peel being among the biggest beneficiaries. “If you’re in doubt about whether vaccines should be prioritized to ‘hot spots,’ read this account,” said a former Minister of Health. An Ontario Senator called Syed’s work “the best reality check of COVID in Canada.”

“We don’t often think about the absence of press coverage to be an issue of press freedoms. But, as we’ve learned throughout the pandemic, the places the press doesn’t exist are often the places that are hurting the most,” said Syed. “I’m grateful to the World Press Freedom Awards committee for once again shining a spotlight on Peel Region with this award and allowing this story to hopefully provoke a discussion about the dangers of news deserts.”

WPFC’s annual award recognizes outstanding achievements by Canadian media workers who produce public-interest journalism while overcoming secrecy, threats and intimidation, refusal to comply with freedom of information requests, or other factors that suppress information gathering.

The Local congratulates writer Fatima Syed, editor Nicholas Hune-Brown, editor-in-chief Tai Huynh, and photojournalists Nick Iwanyshyn and Carlos Osorio.