How the Juno Awards Chose Arcade Fire to Receive This Year's Humanitarian Award

JF Lalonde 
Arcade Fire

Inside the selection process for the prestigious annual award.

Arcade Fire will be honored Saturday night (April 2) in Calgary at the Juno Awards gala dinner with the 2016 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award. The Montreal indie rock band follows such fellow philanthropic recipients as Rush, Neil Young, Bryan Adams and Sarah McLachlan.

The eight-time Juno winners -- Win Butler, Régine ChassagneWill Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara -- have raised more than $4 million CAD ($3.7M USD) to help the people of Haiti through various avenues, such as Partners in Health, KANPE and Plus One.

Allan Reid, president and CEO of The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) and the Juno Awards, tells Billboard that one of the most important parts of the presentation is the chance for the humanitarian recipient(s) to accept it in front of 1,200 members of the Canadian music industry, including the Juno nominees.

“It’s a fantastic room to be speaking to your peers about doing something good in the world, and doing something with the celebrity and the fame that you’ve achieved, and say -- whether to a younger generation of artists coming up or just to the industry overall -- that the music industry is so incredibly giving and has such power and such reach with their fans,” says Reid. “It’s also good that this award motivates other artists to take a look at, ‘What else can I do?’ whether it be on a massive scale like what Arcade Fire have done with Plus One or whether it’s helping the local food bank out, whatever the case may be.”

The Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, created in 2006 and named after the late founder of former media corporation CHUM Ltd, "Recognizes outstanding Canadian artists whose contributions have positively enhanced the social fabric of Canada."

So how is this determined? There are far more potential candidates for Juno’s Hall of Fame and Special Achievement awards. With charity, many artists show up to fundraisers or get involved with one-offs, but to be considered for this prestigious Juno Award, one has to get in the trenches and be committed.

“It’s doesn’t always equate just to a dollar value," Reid says. "It certainly is whether or not they are doing a lifetime’s work or have done one specific event that has raised a lot of awareness or helped a lot of people through a humanitarian effort. Another thing in doing the research: it’s a lot harder than the Hall of Fame, because a lot of people do their stuff very quietly, like Rush. Rush doesn’t go out there and bang the drum; they do a lot of philanthropic work quietly and because it’s the right thing to do and not because they’re looking to get any recognition or notoriety out of it.”

The list of potential Allan Waters Humanitarian Award recipients is put forth both by the CARAS board of directors as well as by the delegates.

“Earlier this year, we put an ask out for the humanitarian award, as well as the Walt Grealis Special Achievement award and Hall of Fame too, for any suggestions,” Reid explains. “We take the suggestions from this ongoing list and it goes to the board. We whittle it down to three to five candidates and we do a lot more research about each of those, and then it comes to a board vote.”

Arcade Fire made the top of the list not just because they have raised millions to help the people of Haiti through various avenues, but because their work is ongoing and engaging.

In 2006, the band began donating $1 per concert ticket sold to Partners In Health (PIH), a non-profit organization founded in Haiti which “strives to achieve two overarching goals: to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair.” Four years later Chassagne co-founded KANPE, which “implements a family support program that integrates the pillars of autonomy: health, nutrition, housing, education, agriculture and leadership,” enabling families to achieve financial autonomy in a sustainable way.

Then, in 2014, in partnership with PIH, they started Plus One to “connect artists, causes and music fans to make an impact in the world.” The National, Chvrches, Johnny Reid, Arkells, Metric and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have all donated $1 per concert ticket sold to Plus One.

“Obviously with Regine, her family being from Haiti, that’s been a major focus for them and they quietly went about their business doing what they felt was the thing to focus on, which was to help the people of Haiti, especially after the earthquake,” says Reid. “Then that dollar a ticket led to the Plus One organization where they went, ‘Jeez, this is so easy to do. We’re not asking anybody really much of anything; it’s not hurting artists; it’s not hurting the promoter and, especially with a band like Arcade Fire which are very much about social justice and doing the right things, their fans became incredibly engaged. You would show up at a show and they would thank you for already contributing. Simply, ‘By attending tonight’s show we raised $30,000.’”

Reid says that the Humanitarian Award is always given with the full cooperation of the artist. They have to be comfortable with the recognition.

“I think the majority of people who receive this award are humbled by it and are very humble by nature,” says Reid. “They’re not looking for recognition. That’s not why they do this. And so it is nice when they agree to come to the Junos to be recognized for this.”