George Garrett still knows how to tell a story.
Garrett, 81, spent 43 years working as a broadcast journalist for CKNW.
He was at the Peninsula Retirement Residence Friday to tell stories from his past, raise money for the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society and talk about his new book, The Life and Times of Lighthouse McNeil.
Garrett started working for CKNW in 1956. He describes it as the golden age of broadcast journalism.
He didn’t have daily deadlines. He went to the beat of his own drum when it came to gathering news.
Garrett looked in his element as he relived one of his stories from his journalism days.
Years ago, Garrett learned that a Vancouver towing company was illegally towing vehicles to increase business. The owner of the tow company was supposed to have written authority from the owner of the parking lot to tow a vehicle. This particular business, Garrett learned, was just forging the parking lot owner’s name on a slip.
“Totally against the law. I thought… how am I going to get this story? I’m going to pretend I’m a tow driver,” Garrett told the crowd.
Garrett explained how he bought some work boots, stopped shaving for a couple of days and went into the unemployment office. His plan was to gain some experience as a tow-truck driver in a legitimate company then possibly go work for the fraudulent company.
He found an advertisement in the unemployment office that said Coquitlam Towing needed a driver. The staff in the unemployment office said Garrett needed to apply for unemployment insurance before applying for the job.
“I thought, if I apply for unemployment insurance, that alone is fraud because I’m not unemployed. But, it’s a story, so I applied,” Garrett told the audience.
Garrett used his middle name, Reno, to throw off suspicion that he was undercover.
After filing for unemployment insurance Garrett drove to Coquitlam Towing and asked the boss for a job.
“‘He said ‘you… want a job?'”
Garrett – thrown off by the question – asked “what’s wrong, am I too old?”
“He said ‘age has nothing to do with it, you’re George Garrett with CKNW. I saw you on the Pattullo Bridge yesterday morning.”
Despite his cover being blown within the first minute of his operation, Garrett was still able to work with Coquitlam Towing for his story.
Instead of posing as tow-truck driver, Garrett was now an actual tow-truck driver. Which, he said, brought up a bunch of challenges all on its own.
After gaining experience he went to the fraudulent company and asked for work. It turns out the company wasn’t as secretive about the fraud as Garrett speculated it would be, and sure enough, Garrett had his scoop.
Garrett – who has a profound respect for the RCMP – did his presentation last week while wearing his red honourary lifetime member blazer for the RCMP Veterans’ Association Vancouver Branch.
His book, which was released last month, is about the life of RCMP Const. Stirling McNeil. Garrett interviewed approximately 40 people over a seven -year period for the story.
His interest in the topic came after Polish-immigrant Robert Dziekański was killed after being repeatedly Tasered by RCMP officers in the Vancouver International Airport in 2007.
“I knew that affected a lot of members. It was kind of like a blow in the gut to them because that’s not the way they operate, it’s just a performance by primarily one guy,” Garrett said. “I thought the RCMP were better than that, I knew that.”
It wasn’t long after that incident that Garrett learned of McNeil. He wrote a short article on him and that prompted him to write a book.
The book is available online through Chapters.
Approximately $2,400 for the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society was raised through Friday’s event.