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Award History

2008 Winner

Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
for An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century

Jury Citation

“Our list of finalists featured books of exceptional quality. But James Orbinski, who grew up in Montreal and now teaches medicine in Toronto, takes us to a different world – where human beings attacked, mutilated, raped, tortured, dismembered and murdered their fellow citizens. Dr. Orbinski was there, saw it, lived it. He returns from the heart of darkness as witness to horror absolute. His book relives the 1994 massacre of Rwanda’s Tutsis, when neighbours butchered neighbours with machetes, even slicing off hands and legs of their neighbours’ children, before the parents’ eyes. Dr. Orbinski came to Rwanda to treat the sick but soon was swept into the vortex of a raging massacre. With an artist’s evocative sensibility, he takes us with him on his voyage through hell. Though he exposes the depths of human depravity, always, in counterpoint, shines the vision of the idealist, the compassion of the humanitarian. He puts a human face on a poignant public policy dilemma, whether swords can be turned into ploughshares rather than ploughshares into swords. He takes us far from the corridors of power to the sharp end of reality, of Realpolitik. In 1999, as international president of Médecins sans frontières, Dr. Orbinski accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace. Tonight, we honour not only his book, An Imperfect Offering, but the man who did us proud as Canadians and as human beings, Dr. James Orbinski.” -- 2008 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing Jury (Chantal Hébert, William Johnson, and David Walmsley)