National Post reporter Christie Blatchford poses in Toronto on August 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/National Post - Peter J. Thompson

Longtime newspaper columnist Christie Blatchford dead at 68

Blatchford had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer in Toronto

Longtime newspaper columnist, author and firebrand Christie Blatchford, a hardnosed scribe known for deep-sourced scoops and biting opinion pieces, has died.

She was 68.

Blatchford had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.

The cancer had metastasized to bones in the spine and hip by the time it was detected late last year, according to a profile her newspaper the National Post published in November.

“We’ll miss her always,” her brother, Les Blatchford, said Wednesday morning. “She was a great gal.”

Known as a tenacious reporter and unflinching social critic, Blatchford leaves behind a large body of work that was often bracingly frank, charged with emotion, and cut with humour.

A five-decade career cemented Blatchford as one of the country’s most enduring voices on the courts and crime beat, and her willingness to critique controversial social issues earned her a reputation for uncompromising, and often polarizing, viewpoints, most recently on the #MeToo movement.

For the candid and notoriously ribald “Blatch,” this was all in service of her mission to speak truth to power.

Criminal defence lawyer Marie Henein spoke of this as she presented Blatchford with the George Jonas Freedom Award at a gala in Toronto last June, describing an unapologetic, tough-as-nails writer whose pieces captured the “humanity” of a courtroom.

“None of it is sugar-coated and why should it be? In these times more than ever don’t we need a good dose of unvarnished truth? Don’t we need a good dose of Christie?” said Henein, who rose to national prominence as Jian Ghomeshi’s defence lawyer, a trial that Blatchford covered extensively.

“While lawyers and judges may rail against what she writes sometimes — may get infuriated even — here’s our dirty little secret, I’m going to share it with you: They all get nervous when she walks into court. We know she is there and everyone — every single one of them, every judge and every lawyer — reads her first. And they do it for one reason: Her opinion matters, her perspective matters.”

Blatchford’s recent reports for the Post and Postmedia chain of newspapers ranged from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s blackface and SNC-Lavalin scandals to the death of her beloved white bull terrier, Obie, in September.

In one of her final columns in October, she wrote about nagging muscle pain that forced her to leave the Liberals’ federal election tour only six days in — a mysterious ache that kept her from logging her daily 10-to-15-kilometre runs and instead led to a devastating diagnosis.

Former Postmedia president and CEO Paul Godfrey, who now serves as the company’s executive chairman, admits his “immediate goal was to get Christie back” when he took over Postmedia in 2010.

“She was a jewel to have in your stable of journalists because she could write about anything. If you asked her to cover politics, sports, crime, anything like that, ask her to become a columnist and do a feature story on someone, she got to the bottom of it. Nothing fazed her,” Godfrey says of Blatchford, also a mainstay on local radio through regular appearances on Toronto’s NewsTalk1010.

Blatchford was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame last November but was too unwell to attend.

READ MORE: Neil Peart, Rush drummer, dies at 67

She was also the author of several non-fiction books, including “Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army,” based on her experiences during four trips to Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007. It won the 2008 Governor-General’s Literary Award in non-fiction.

The Canadian Press

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