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Former CBC journalist known for radio docs dies after random assault in Toronto

Police are searching for a male suspect in the incident
The CBC logo is projected onto a screen in Toronto on May 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

A longtime former CBC producer who travelled the world to create radio documentaries has died after a random daytime assault in Toronto’s east end, the public broadcaster said.

In a note sent to CBC staff this week and obtained by The Canadian Press, the network said Michael Finlay – who worked at the broadcaster for 31 years before retiring in 2010 – died Tuesday, a week after the attack.

Cathy Perry, the network’s executive director of newsgathering and operations, said Finlay died of medical complications after being injured in a random assault in the city last week.

“Michael will be remembered as an exceptional story-teller, documentary-maker and editor,” she wrote, noting Finlay worked on several CBC programs.

“If you worked on a documentary with Michael, you were experiencing the pinnacle of the craft.”

Toronto police have said officers responded to a call about an assault on Jan. 24 at 3:35 p.m. in the Danforth Avenue and Jones Avenue area.

Police – who do not typically release details on victims’ identities –said a man was allegedly assaulted and fell to the ground with serious injuries after the attack. They are searching for a male suspect.

Malcolm Morrison, a former reporter at The Canadian Press and a longtime friend of Finlay, said he and everyone who knew Finlay were “absolutely shattered” upon hearing the news of his death.

“This is very, very, unfair, and what to say, except the guy deserved a lot better and all of his friends, we all just hope that the person who did this gets caught before he does something like this to somebody else,” he said.

Morrison, who first met Finlay in British Columbia in 1974 when he worked at the Vancouver Sun, said he will remember him as a gifted journalist and a funny and sarcastic friend.

“I met an awful lot of journalists over the years and there was none better than Finlay. Mike was one of the absolute best journalists I ever came across, just an incredible mind and wit, intelligence,” he said.

“He could be very, very cynical. He could be very, very bitter. But … he could also be the wittiest, most intelligent and the best guy to have a conversation with.”

Morrison said Finlay was a multimedia journalist in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, writing print stories while also producing radio pieces and documentaries – something unusual at that time.

He said Finlay’s career peak was when he worked as an executive producer at CBC’s Sunday Morning.

“You would hear one great documentary after another and Mike Finley was the executive producer and brought all that together,” he said.

“He was generous … when I say generous, not exactly in a monetary sense, but mentoring people. There are many people in journalism who have Mike Finlay to thank.”

CBC said Finlay also worked as an editor at the network.

“Later, as an editor at World At Six, Michael was known for knowing everything about every news story here at home and abroad. He pushed journalists and producers to tell great stories and they knew he always had their back in the field,” Perry wrote.

“Michael had strong convictions about writing, story and structure. Every reporter he ever worked with said their story was made better because of Michael.”

Police said their investigation into the attack is ongoing and are asking anyone with information to contact them.

The assault on Finlay was the latest in a series of violent attacks in Toronto, which prompted the city’s mayor to call for a nationwide summit last week to address the mental health crisis in municipalities across the country.

Two people have been killed and a number of others have been wounded in random attacks in the city in the past few months.

In January, an older woman was killed after she was allegedly pushed to the ground while walking near a bustling intersection downtown at midday. Police have said the attack was unprovoked.

There were also a number of violent incidents on the city’s transit system in a handful of days last month.

In December, a woman was stabbed to death and another was wounded in a random attack on a subway train. Also that month, police charged a woman after six people were allegedly assaulted in a spree of random attacks on a streetcar, subway platforms and trains.

—Sharif Hassan, The Canadian Press