Janice Johnston, a CBC journalist whose decades-long career shaped justice and crime reporting in Edmonton and Alberta, died Friday. She was 62.
Johnston, who was born in London, Ont., on March 2, 1960, died of cancer after a brief illness.
Johnston covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades and her dedication to the beat was unmatched.
She is survived by her husband Scott Johnston, her daughter Samantha Milles, son-in-law Demetri Milles and her granddaughter Calliope (Cali).
In an interview Friday, Samantha Milles said her mother excelled as a journalist right from the start, and always had an “electric spark” that drove her work.
“She was covering stories just a few months ago that she still had so much passion to talk about and cared so deeply about. It was her calling, I truly feel, to do the job that she did,” Milles said.
A storied career
Johnston found meaning in telling the stories of justice delivered.
She pursued her stories with determination, said Stephanie Coombs, CBC Edmonton’s director of journalism and programming.
“Janice was the kind of journalist who lived and breathed the news,” Coombs said.
“She strongly believed in her role as a crime reporter to tell the public about what went on in the criminal justice system, both in the courts and behind the scenes. If something was secret and in the public interest, Janice wanted to dig into it and bring it into the light.”
Coombs recalled working closely with Johnston on a 2021 investigative series in which a whistleblower police officer leaked unprecedented information to Johnston.
“It was a testament to her reputation as a journalist in Edmonton that she got the story and was able to share it with the public,” she said.
Johnston was no stranger to the legislature or city hall, but the courthouse was her calling.
Edmonton criminal lawyer Brian Beresh said Johnston’s leaves a legacy as a deeply trusted reporter who doggedly chased the truth.
“She was the ultimate court reporter,” Beresh said. “She had that great sense to be able to capture the story objectively. And what really struck me about her was her compassion … she was fierce but she was fair.”
Johnston brought the details of significant cases to Edmontonians over the decades: the disappearance of St. Albert seniors Lyle and Marie McCann and the case of the so-called “Dexter killer” Mark Twitchell.
She travelled to North Carolina for a case involving an Alberta man who admitted to killing his wife.
Johnston spent years covering dangerous offender Leo Teskey’s progress through the justice system. After her reports, the provincial government made it illegal for dangerous and long-term offenders to change their names.
In 2016, she won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father.
She was dogged in holding the justice system accountable through her coverage of Alberta police agencies withholding the names of homicide victims. She broke the story of a sexual assault victim who was jailed while testifying against her attacker.
She was the ultimate court reporter.– Brian Beresh
Albertans have lost a valuable and trusted voice, said Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau.
“Janice Johnston was deeply knowledgeable, thoughtful and thorough, and always brought these qualities to her reporting,” Moreau said in a statement.
“Her seniority among Alberta reporters, and the respect she earned from her colleagues and from members of the judiciary, also made her an effective advocate for media access to the courts.”
Johnston was generous with her extensive knowledge, working as a mentor to countless young journalists.
A former colleague, CBC correspondent Briar Stewart, said she will always remember Johnston’s confidence in the courtroom, when she would stand up to argue before judges that media outlets should have access to court records or other legal documents.
“She was a force, and always so generous sharing her expertise. I know I learned a great deal from her,” Stewart said.
Meghan Grant, who covers courts and crime for CBC Calgary, met Johnston while they were covering a parole hearing in 2016. They became friends and made a point of catching up whenever they were in each other’s city.
“Most recently, my son and I had lunch with Janice on a sunny Edmonton patio in August which included glasses of rosé,” Grant said Friday.
“She insisted on paying. She also gave me a pillow she’d made. Janice was incredibly generous, thoughtful and crafty in every sense of that word.”
Radio Active3:20Remembering Janice Johnston part 1
Johnston studied radio and television arts at then-Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University), and got her first job working in Wingham, Ont.
She moved to Edmonton in the 1980s, first working at radio station CISN as a reporter and later as a news director. She moved on to work at CFRN-TV as a reporter. She started at CBC in the early 2000s.
‘A best friend in your partner’
Johnston and her husband Scott, a fellow journalist, were together for 36 years and marked their 20th anniversary by renewing their vows on a Caribbean beach. Scott Johnston now works with the Alberta government.
Johnston recently wrote on social media that she was lucky she and her partner still looked at each other like they did when they first fell in love.
Milles said her parents’ relationship was an inspiration to her.
“I think it’s so cool that they both got to do the same job together and we would sit down at the dinner table and hear about their days,” she said. “They taught me such a great example of how to have a best friend in your partner.”
The newsroom’s fashionista
Despite the serious nature of Johnston’s work, she loved to have fun. She had many passions and hobbies that kept her busy and spent lots of quality time with her family.
“She would cover courts and crime during the day, then we would watch The Bachelor and drink wine and go out for lunch every weekend and catch up. And she was just so loving and caring in that way too,” Milles said.
Her mother was an Earth, Wind and Fire superfan who also loved Bruno Mars. If there was music on at a party, Johnston was dancing.
She was also the CBC newsroom fashionista, known for her impressive collection of designer shoes.
Johnston was adept with a needle and thread as she was with her pen.
When she wasn’t covering crime from the Edmonton law courts, she used crafting — and sometimes canning — to help her unwind.
She took great pride in her creations — crocheted pillows, brightly-coloured quilts and tiny onesies and Halloween costumes carefully crafted for her beloved granddaughter.
Becoming a Gigi was a point of pride for Johnston and hugs from granddaughter Cali were the highlight of any family gathering.
In 2020, hours before her 60th birthday, Johnston wrote on Facebook about what she had learned from her life.
She spoke of her affection for her late mother, the love she shared with her husband, and the pride she had in her family and her career.
“I’m grateful I have a career I love [and] the ability to tell people’s stories.”