Society

The powerful journalism of Anne Kingston

Her writing won awards, shaped opinion and changed the country. Here’s a sample from her 15-year career at Maclean's.

Kingston had a brilliant 40-year career as an award-winning reporter, columnist and author. She died this week at age 62. Here is a look back at some of her most memorable stories and covers.


Canada’s richest family, the Thomsons, are worth $23.8 billion…and they’re just a little bit strange

MAY 8th 2006 | Maclean'sIn one of her earliest Maclean’s covers, and what editor Kenneth Whyte called one of the magazine’s “biggest stories,” Anne co-wrote a detailed, deep dive into an esoteric wealthy family in 2006.

ON MARCH 10, 2006, Benjamin James Ludwick Thomson, the future Lord Thomson of Fleet and heir to the country’s greatest fortune, was born in Toronto. Not a mention of it was made in mainstream Canadian media, not even a birth notice. Also unreported was the fact that little Benjamin’s father, David Thomson, chairman of Thomson Corp., signed an application for divorce from his son’s mother, Laurie Ludwick, that very day. A server arrived at the new mother’s door with the papers three hours after she returned home from hospital.

In itself, the tale appears little more than a sad example of marital fragility. That, and rich fodder for dinner-party chatter at well heeled Toronto addresses. But we’ve had previous glimpses of David Thomson’s eccentricities: a historical Rosedale mansion purchased for $2.6 million in 1988 that was left to fall into squalor when the city scuttled his renovation plans; his dramatic pronouncements on the state of his soul-“I am absolutely compelled to follow my feelings, or I forfeit the right to live.” So the story, fraught with dark Gothic symmetry, invites curiosity.


Are you good enough for Michael Ignatieff?

In 2006, she wrote a riveting profile of Michael IgnatieffNOV. 20th 2006 | Maclean's

It is telling of the current political moment, one in which The Daily Show contempt for professional politicians is rife and Angelina Jolie speaks at Davos, that Michael Ignatieff has become the man to beat for the leadership of the Liberal party. He has, as every Canadian knows, lived outside the country’s borders for more than three decades. His administrative experience is limited to running a tiny centre within Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. His House of Commons exposure can be counted in days. He is a man for whom the word “liberal” one year ago summoned the names Jeremy Bentham and Wilhelm Röpke, not Ruby Dhalla and Denis Coderre. Yet some 30 per cent of Liberal delegates and 39 MPs — almost half the caucus who have declared their support for a leadership candidate — are wagering on him for electoral salvation. He has become the measure against which the Liberal leadership race has been waged, animating discussion of what it is to be Canadian and what it means to be a politician. His handlers bill him as a statesman for the post 9/11 era. “Guys like me are passé,” says David Peterson, the former Ontario premier and honorary national co-chair of Ignatieff’s campaign. “This is not politics as usual. He is something special.”


The case against having kids

Anne looked at womanhood in a way that challenged norms and was able to tell stories that may have seemed taboo. In 2009, she wrote about the women who were choosing to not have childrenAUG. 3rd 2009 | Maclean's

In a pro-natalist culture that celebrates the “yummy mummy,” and obsessively monitors baby bumps and the mini Jolie-Pitt entourage in magazines, saying “I don’t want kids” is akin to “There’s a bomb on the plane.” In the past, those who chose not to have children did so quietly, observes Toronto-based poet Molly Peacock, whose 1998 memoir Paradise, Piece by Piece was acclaimed a breakthrough for its candid recounting of her decision not to have children. “It has been an intense and underground conversation,” Peacock says, noting many childless women contacted her to say, “At last, someone is talking about what I’ve been living silently.”


How he got away with it

In 2014 she wrote the definitive story about the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, telling the tales of women who had encountered him and how his behaviour had been tolerated for so long: NOVEMBER 17, 2014 | Maclean's

In the circles that helped to propel Ghomeshi and kept him aloft, if there was a collective shock, it wasn’t based on the Jian we didn’t know, the Mr. Hyde we never saw. It was based on the Jian many had known for decades—the Jian hiding in plain sight. 


Get ready for Generation Z

Her fascinating 2014 cover story delved into the newest generation and what we could expect from Gen Zs before everyone was talking about it: JULY 21, 2014 | Maclean's

Their defining characteristic, so far, is that they’re a new species—“screenagers,” the first tribe of “digital natives.” That’s the much-debated term that distinguishes the wired-from-the-crib from “digital immigrants,” for whom the Internet is a second language.

The result could well be the most profound generation gap ever: a digital divide between parents who see the Internet as disrupting society as we know it (and making them feel obsolete) and their kids, who are not only at home with the technology—“it’s like air to them,” Tapscott says—but are already driving many of the shifts happening in how we communicate, the way we access information and the culture we consume.


Why men can’t have it all

In 2015, she wrote about the challenges facing men and their changing roles in society: OCTOBER 5, 2015 | Maclean's

The modern model dad speaks to a rejection of the distant man in the grey flannel suit—the Don Draper dad—and a desire for an involved, emotionally open caregiver. But, as the voices expressing frustration with the constraints of their role make clear, there’s no system in place to support that kind of real-life father. Dads who take paternity leave face a stigma at work, and are penalized financially. The daddy track, like the mommy track, comes at a cost. Accommodations like flex time are framed as a women’s issue and extended—when they are —to mothers, almost never fathers. It took Levs filing a lawsuit against his employer to be granted leave to look after his three children after his wife developed severe pre-eclampsia after an emergency C-section. In the work-life question, there is a pre-scripted role for men, and it doesn’t leave room for a robust domestic life.


Is Justin Trudeau a fake feminist?

In 2016, Anne called into question the prime minister’s ‘feminist’ label, melding her formidable reporting chops and passion for women’s issues: SEPTEMBER 19, 2016 | Maclean's

That Trudeau was embraced as an enlightened white knight isn’t surprising after nearly 10 years of a government whose position on women and gender vacillated between avoidance and attack. Under the Harper government, women’s programs were decimated, violence against Aboriginal woman and girls ignored, and Conservative election rhetoric linked to actual violence against Canadian women, when women in hijabs and niqabs were assaulted in Toronto and Montreal during the election…Ten months in, however, the objectification of Trudeau as Canada’s “dreamy” feminist PM is facing a harsh reality check. Political and economic realities (prioritizing Canadian jobs in a $15-billion sale of light armoured vehicles to a decidedly unegalitarian Saudi Arabia, for instance) have had to trump feminist principles.


What Jian Ghomeshi did

Anne wrote about the Ghomeshi trial in 2016, providing a mix of analysis and reportage that was crucial in the coverage of the difficult aftermath: APRIL 11, 2016 | Maclean's

In one paradox of the Ghomeshi case, the defence’s focus on dismantling witness testimony saw the very crux of sexual assault—whether or not consent took place—virtually absent from the proceeding. The law is clear on consent: it’s subjective; seeing the accused—even having sex with him or her at a later date—does not obviate an earlier assault; consent cannot be granted retroactively. But human interactions are more complex, as the Ghomeshi trial made clear. A professor at the University of Toronto told Maclean’s that discussion among her first-year students the day the verdict was read revealed their anxieties about dating and forging intimate relations. “The case made students, male and female, question who could be trusted—not only in terms of being attacked but also being believed.” And, as the Ghomeshi trial showed, more platforms of communication to negotiate relationships and consent—replete with flirty texts and never-to-be deleted images— further blur the question.


At the Bill Cosby trial, ‘Canada’s Mom’ slays ‘America’s Dad’

Anne lent her commentary and analysis to another high-profile male celebrity sex assault scandal. Allegations against Bill Cosby shocked the world and Anne was there during the terse trial to tell the victim’s story:

Gianna Constand, a former medical secretary, described receiving a call from her daughter while driving to work in early January 2005. Andrea was upset. “Mom, I have PTSD,” Gianna recalled her daughter saying, adding that Andrea called Cosby “a bad word.” Then, she said, her daughter told her: “Mom, he drugged me and he raped me.” Constand testified she’d seen changes in her daughter since she’d returned to the family home in Pickering, Ont. in 2004. She was having nightmares, waking up in a sweat, spacing out when the family was watching TV, her mother reported.

The news shocked her, Gianna Constand said. She believed Cosby and her daughter were friends. She’d met the entertainer briefly after he’d arranged tickets for her and her other daughter, Diana, to attend a March 2003 appearance at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall.


Melania Trump’s lonely one-woman resistance

She had a sharp eye for what others would never notice. After Donald Trump became president, Anne analyzed the enigma that is Melania Trump:

Dynamics shifted post-election, as Melania Trump has emerged the most reluctant first lady since Bess Truman. Perversely, she’s a trailblazer of sorts in refusing to play the fossilized role. She broke with protocol by not moving into the White House for six months, ostensibly because of their 10-year old son’s school schedule, but more likely to avoid The Donald. As her step-daughter Ivanka assumed the hybrid first daughter-first lady role, Melania has emerged a silent cipher, her absurd pledge to take on cyber-bullying long forgotten.


‘I regret having children’

In 2018, she reported on yet another taboo subject: women who regret motherhood. The cover story unearthed the feelings women are too afraid to say out loud but connect with deeply, sparking recognition and also outrage from readers: FEBRUARY 2018 | Maclean's

At first glance, Amy* is like many busy young moms—she’s 34, lives in Alberta, works full-time and is devoted to her five-year-old. “I love my son with all my heart,” she says. “My life revolves around this child.” Four nights a week from May to June are spent at a sports field, she says. “All his schoolmates do it, so if he doesn’t, he’s left out.”

When discussing motherhood, however, Amy deviates from the maternal script: if she could make that choice over again, she says, she wouldn’t. She never wanted children (“I was very independent,” she says)—her husband did. “It would have been a deal-breaker.” Parenthood put an untenable strain on the marriage; her husband wasn’t as involved as she wanted; they separated. Life is difficult, Amy reports: “Our child has two homes and I’m still doing 90 per cent of it on my own.”

Amy’s candour is part of a growing yet contentious conversation about parental regret, one primarily focused on mothers. 


The real lives of the Shermans

In 2018, Anne and Michael Friscolanti dove into the mysterious deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman, uncovering family feuds, endless lawsuits and corporate espionage: MAY 2018 | Maclean's

The question to be answered is not only why was Sherman murdered alongside his wife, but why now, at 75? It’s no secret the drug executive had amassed a long list of enemies in his 50-year career. A renowned risk-taker, disruptor and pitbull professionally, Sherman was a polarizing figure—regarded as a softie with a heart of gold by those in his proximity and loathed by those who claim they were outfoxed or betrayed by him. The man who learned weeks before his death of his nomination to the Order of Canada was also called out as unethical in business dealings. The late physician and pharmaceutical entrepreneur Morton Shulman, who did battle with Sherman, called him “the only person I have ever met with no redeeming features whatsoever.”


Inside the first year of #MeToo

Anne’s reporting and analysis of the #MeToo movement was key reading. In 2018, she wrote a retrospective about the movement one year later, and what is to come:

Those on the front lines of sexual violence education and advocacy in Canada date this country’s #MeToo anniversary back four years. “#MeToo felt like déjà vu in my sector,” says Ottawa-based public educator Julie Lalonde. “The autumn of 2014 and then 2015 was our big moment,” she says, rhyming off headline-making cases, foremost among them the allegations of sexual assault and harassment made against star CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi. His 2016 criminal trial, which ended in acquittal and Ghomeshi issuing an apology for workplace harassment, summoned demands for reform in how courts deal with sexual assault cases and saw #IBelieveWomen and #RapedNeverReported trending. Cases spanned sectors: two members of the University of Ottawa men’s varsity hockey team were charged with assaulting a woman during a drunken debauch after a big win in 2014 (they were acquitted in June); two Liberal MPs were exiled for sexual misconduct; a misogynistic “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen” Facebook page at Dalhousie University stoked national furor; and a report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps revealed entrenched sexual abuse and harassment in the RCMP and military. “#MeToo is just the rest of North America catching up to us,” Lalonde says.


The world is broken—and human kindness is the only solution

Anne’s 2019 cover story decried the lack of compassion in a world ‘on the brink,’ and detailed all the reasons—backed with science and numbers—why kindness could be the answer to humanity’s problems: JULY 2019 | Maclean's

In February, Canadians received a rude wake-up call about the lack of compassion of some Ontarians. After a late-night Amber Alert chimed on cellphones signalling the abduction of 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar, some people turned to social media, not to express concern for a child in peril (Rajkumar was later found murdered), but to vent about having their sleep disturbed. Others called 911 to complain, jamming lines for people with real emergencies. The angry blowback to the blowback was swift. Yet an identical cycle was unleashed during another Amber Alert a few months later (happily, the three-year-old boy was found safe).

The selfish reaction to the alert was upheld as more proof of dwindling societal empathy, of “me-first” narcissism, of the further tattering of the social contract that citizens share. The reaction to the reaction was telling, too—reflexive judgment, mockery and name-calling. The entire dust-up serves as a microcosm of a far bigger conflict now playing out: the urgent call for compassion as the last-gasp remedy for systems on the brink—politics, health care, civil society, the planet itself.


We are the dead

For months, Anne investigated intimate-partner violence, revealing how systems, politicians and people have failed women and girls in Canada:

The complex topic of intimate-partner violence is one of renewed urgency in Canada. National rates of homicide, domestic violence and dating violence have decreased since 2009, but recent spikes in domestic homicide have experts concerned. “Epidemic level” is how Staff Sgt. Paul Wozney of the Calgary Police Service described domestic abuse in his city earlier this year. Six of 12 confirmed homicides in the first half of 2019 were believed to be “domestic,” nearly equal to totals from both 2017 and 2018: a 40 per cent increase in the five-year average. In May, 25-year-old Jasmine Lovett and her 22-month-old daughter, Aliyah Sanderson, were found murdered. A May house explosion killed 22-year-old Dorsa Dehdari and her 15-year-old sister, Dorna; it was set by their father, who also died. (The girls’ mother had just filed for divorce.) They join the growing list of women or girls killed every 2.5 days, on average, in Canada, most often at the hands of someone they trusted, according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability at the University of Guelph.