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Finalists for Shaughnessy Cohen Prize

March 21st, 2024

BC based authors, Benjamin Perrin (at right) and John Vaillant, are named finalists for the 2024 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for their books, Indictment: The Criminal Justice System on Trial (Aevo UTP $32.95) and Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast (Knopf Canada $25.00) respectively.

The debate surrounding Canada’s criminal justice system is intensely polarized, prompting a dire need for innovative solutions. In Indictment, Benjamin Perrin delves into the heartrending narratives of survivors and offenders to shed light on the system’s existential crisis. Drawing from his extensive legal background, Perrin critiques the system through a trauma-informed lens, highlighting its shortcomings in addressing the needs of victims, Indigenous communities, Black Canadians, and individuals struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse. Perrin also amplifies the perspectives of frontline workers and marginalized voices, including prosecutors, defense lawyers, Indigenous leaders, and public health experts, offering insights into potential reforms. By showcasing stories of survival and resilience, Indictment advocates for a more compassionate and effective approach to criminal justice, emphasizing the possibility of meaningful change.

Members of the Jury, Joanna Chiu, Dale Eisler and Kathleen Wynne had the following to say about this book. “Gripping and timely, Indictment delivers a powerful vision for a complete transformation of Canada’s criminal justice system. Drawing on interviews with frontline workers, survivors of crime, and repeat offenders, Benjamin Perrin masterfully weaves together vivid case studies with the latest research on how to create a safer society for all. Shared experiences from marginalized groups, such as Indigenous people and Black Canadians, shape Perrin’s trauma-informed proposals to tackle everything from the opioid crisis to the problems with current jails. This beautifully written and rigorous critique is sure to enlighten any reader and offers fresh ideas and vital information to policymakers for overdue justice.”

Benjamin Perrin is a professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. He previously served as a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada, advised judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Special Court for Sierra Leone, and was lead criminal justice advisor and in-house legal counsel to the prime minister of Canada. In addition to policy papers and journal articles, Perrin has authored several books including Overdose, Victim Law, and Criminal Law.

In May 2016, Fort McMurray faced a catastrophic wildfire, revealing the potential of extreme fires in a warming world. John Vaillant’s narrative warns that this event foreshadows the future, where climate change intensifies fire risks. He explores fire’s historic role in human evolution, its benefits and its increasing threat due to climate change. Vaillant skillfully weaves together the oil industry’s history, climate science and personal stories affected by devastating wildfires. With compelling prose, he emphasizes the urgent need to confront the escalating dangers of fire in the modern era. Vaillant’s work is a contribution to understanding and addressing the challenges of our fiery future.

The Jury members said the following about Vaillant’s book. ““Like a blazing inferno that commands our attention and awe, we cannot look away from Fire Weather. John Vaillant brings the devastating 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire to life by introducing us, almost affectionately, to the human beings on the frontlines of the fossil fuel industry and the fire it produces that threatens us all. This is a deeply compelling, skillfully crafted story packed with information but completely free of ponderous lecturing. It is terrifying in its honest, textured description of what we have wrought in the name of progress, what we stand to lose, and where we might find the possibility of hope.”

John Vaillant

John Vaillant is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction chronicling the natural world. His first book, The Golden Spruce, won the Pearson Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize and a Governor General’s Literary Award; his second book, The Tiger, won British Columbia’s National Award for Canadian Nonfiction. His debut novel, The Jaguar’s Children, was a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the international Dublin Literary Award. Vaillant is the recipient of a $150,000 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize and was shortlisted for the 2023 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.




Established in honour of the outspoken and popular MP from Windsor, Ontario, the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, with a purse of $25,000 is awarded annually for an exceptional book of literary nonfiction that captures a political subject of relevance to Canadian readers. Sponsored by CN, the prize is awarded annually at the Politics and the Pen gala in Ottawa.

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