Sitting with an intimate crowd of people at University of St. Michael’s College, Malarek shared how his life experiences in a shattered home, then in the Quebec child welfare system informed his crusade against institutionalization.  Photo by Jean Ko Din

Crusading journalist ‘fighting the fight’

  • March 7, 2018

Victor Malarek believes he was born with a sword in hand to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. In fact, he made a career out of it. 

Malarek, 69, recently retired as senior correspondent for CTV’s W5 where he was known as a “take no prisoners” reporter. 

“Victor had a reputation of being a tough guy,” said Sandie Rinaldo, who worked with Malarek on the W5 team. “Anyone who came up against Victor and his ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, you don’t want to be interviewed by Victor Malarek because you know you’re going to end looking quite bad.”

Rinaldo joined her colleague Malarek in conversation for “An Evening with Victor Malarek” March 1, hosted by University of Toronto’s Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Easter Christian Studies (MASI).

“Every time I run into Victor I say, I may be the one wearing the collar, but you’re the one going straight to Heaven. I mean his work is so evangelical. It’s profoundly Christian,” said Fr. Peter Galadza, director of the Sheptytsky Institute. 

Malarek doesn’t consider himself a Christian. He grew up as a Ukranian Catholic, thanks to the influence of his mother. However, his work to uncover injustice has led him to be suspicious of all institutions. He has covered a wide range of topics in his reporting, from human trafficking and prostitution to an RCMP undercover terrorism drug operation.

“I’m a very spiritual person. I believe very strongly,” he explained. “I don’t belong to really anything anymore, but I have a very strong sense of my beliefs. I meditate. I think about the goodness in people. I think about fighting the fight. I think I’m put here with a sword in my hand to do something good but I think that all came from my early years and I still have it.”

Galadza said that Malarek’s work is profoundly Christian because it has opened the public’s eyes to the plight of invisible victims which is a prime function of Christianity. 

Rinaldo acted as moderator and interviewer while Malarek shared stories of his life’s work as an investigative reporter “giving a voice to the voiceless.” 

Malarek started out as a copy boy for the Weekend Magazine in Montreal at the age of 19 and eventually became a senior investigative correspondent at CTV’s W5. He retired from the show last year to focus on his writing.

He is author of six non-fiction titles, including The Natashas: Inside the Global Sex Trade (2003) and The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It (2009). A new feature film is in production based on his 1996 book Gut Instinct, with actor Josh Hartnett as Malarek. But none of his non-fiction work is more acclaimed than his autobiography, Hey ... Malarek!: The True Story of a Street Kid Who Made It. (1984). 

Sitting with an intimate crowd of people at University of St. Michael’s College, Malarek shared how his life experiences in a shattered home, then in the Quebec child welfare system informed his crusade against institutionalization. 

“An institution has a pattern and the kinds of people who work in institutions are also the same kind of people that I found back in the ’50s and ’60s when I was in the institution,” said Malarek. “I wanted to fight for them. Even when I wrote Hey ... Malarek!, yeah it’s about me but it’s about all the guys who were in the home. It’s about all the guys who had to go through this kind of stuff.”

In his autobiography, he recounts overcoming his troubled childhood to becoming a top investigative reporter. He said his life could’ve have turned out badly, more violent and angry. But a turning point in his life came when he stood in front of a judge at 17 years old. Malarek said the prosecutor and his probation officer wanted him to get five years in juvenile detention, but the judge decided to show him mercy. 

“The judge looked at me and I really thought I was going away,” Malarek recalled. “He just looked at me and said, ‘This is the moment for you where you’re going to have to change or it’s over.’ And then he let me go.” 

It was the first door that was opened for him, he said. And he intended on making the most of his chance. His first big break as a journalist came when he was hired as a crime reporter for The Montreal Star in 1970. He was one of the first to report on the FLQ October terrorist crisis.

Since then, Malarek has worked for the Globe and Mail, CBC and most recently, CTV. He has reported from around the world, including Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia, Somalia, South America and many others. 

He produced more than 150 documentaries. He has received four Michener Awards, one of the the highest distinctions in Canadian journalism. In 1997, he won a Gemini Award as Canada’s top broadcast journalist. 

His best-selling autobiography inspired the 1989 feature film Malarek and a 16-part CBC fictional drama series Urban Angel from 1991-1992.

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