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Defenders for Human Rights

Other Human Rights Defenders

The purpose of Speak Truth to Power Canada is to share the personal journeys of some of the many Canadian human rights defenders working today. As lesson plans are thematic and many Canadians assume the responsibility to advance human rights, every lesson plan also includes community-based defenders. It is hoped that your students may be inspired to identify themselves as human rights defenders and take positive action to support human rights in their own life and community. Perhaps your students will become community defenders themselves.

Samantha Nutt

Samantha Nutt founded War Child Canada in 1999. Having seen the vulnerability of children and families in war-torn countries, Somalia in particular when she was 25, Nutt sought a grassroots approach to humanitarian need. Over more than 15 years, the project has grown from one young doctor – Nutt – to a major internationally recognized organization, largely due to major support from Canadian international musicians. Drawn to medicine by her interest in humanity, Nutt’s goal is to build communities until her own work is unnecessary – to work with local groups until War Child becomes obsolete. Nutt has become one of Canada’s leading and most outspoken voices on the effect of war on women and children, and has received both the Order of Canada and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition of her work.

  • Crimes Against Humanity
  • Displacement to Activism

Min Sook Lee

With an interest in the effect of state structure and power dynamics on human rights, Min Sook Lee’s documentary filmmaking largely focuses on marginalized groups. Lee has made three films about migrant workers in a particular: El Contrato and Borderless – about male migrant workers – and Migrant Dreams – about female migrant workers coming to Canada to support their families, a film for which Lee raised $15,000 on IndieGoGo. El Contrato is a winner of the Cesar E. Chavez Black Eagle Award for its role in the improvement of migrant worker rights. A Ryerson documentary instructor and Toronto International Film Festival judge, Lee is mindful of ethics and the protection of her vulnerable subjects, which have, as well as migrant workers, included North Korean defectors and gay police officers.

  • Human Dignity
  • Labour Rights

Raul Gatica

An indigenous Ñuu Savi poet originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, Raul Gatica is a past Surrey Agricultural Workers Alliance (AWA) coordinator and advocate for migrant workers, positions where he has been a voice for migrant agricultural workers to their bosses and to the general public. Gatica now runs a Spanish-language critical and cultural radio program, Ecos de mi pueblo, directed specifically at indigenous communities. The program hosts workers, activists, and academics in discussions about issues faced by indigenous people and agricultural workers. Gatica received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for his work.

  • Cultural Identity and Education
  • Labour Rights

Elizabeth Fry Societies

The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies works to support women who are either in the criminal justice system or at risk of becoming so. Elizabeth Fry, an English Quaker who worked in the 19th century to support women incarcerated in poorhouses, inspires the societies. Across Canada, 24 self-governing, community-based member societies provide research and programming, which includes counselling, reintegration, and court support. First founded in 1939 by Member of Parliament Agnes Macphail, the societies function under a number of principles, including justice, confidentiality, reality, and honesty. As well as supporting at-risk women, the societies work to educate the public about the issues at-risk women face.

  • Crimes Against Humanity

Harsha Walia

The founder of the Vancouver chapter of No One Is Illegal, Harsha Walia is a South Asian social justice activist focussed on migrant and indigenous solidarity, as well as ending gender violence – particularly in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. No One Is Illegal works both to directly support refugees and indigenous communities, and to raise public awareness about the challenged faced by both groups. Walia herself is inspired by her grandfather’s struggle against the British Raj in pre-partition India. Her book, Undoing Border Imperialism*, published in 2013, is both an education in mass displacement and a tutorial for movement building.

  • Women’s Health and Security
  • Truth and Reconciliation

Walking With Our Sisters

Walking With Our Sisters is a collaborative art installation remembering the more than 1,100 indigenous women who have been murdered or have gone missing in the past 30 years. The project uses a pair of vamps – moccasin tops – for each individual woman. The unfinished moccasin represents the unfinished life. In 2012, Métis artist Christi Belcourt made a call for donations of specially made vamps on Facebook, hoping for support in the project. By just over a year later, she had received 1,600 pairs – more than doubling her goal of 600. The installation, which has travelled across North America, seeks not only to remember and to support families, but also to raise awareness of the ongoing mysteries of many of the disappearances.

  • Truth and Reconciliation
  • Human Trafficking
  • Cultural Identity and Education

Karen O’Shannacery

Karen O’Shannacery is an advocate for the homeless who worked with Vancouvers Lookout Emergency Aid Society from its inception in 1971 until her retirement in 2014. The Lookout Society provides housing and support services – including hangouts for the mentally ill, healthcare, addiction counselling, and kitchen and technical training – for those with low to no income. The goal is to provide flexible, non-judgmental services to help people with a variety of challenges attain stability and a higher quality of life. Inspired by her own struggles on the street in the Downtown Eastside, where she once made money by selling drugs, O’Shannacery believes that housing is both the first step to self-sufficiency and a right. She only revealed her personal past with her work following her retirement in 2014.

  • Women’s Health and Security

Hannah Taylor

Hannah Taylor has been an advocate for Canada’s hungry and homeless population since she was five, when she saw a homeless man having to eat from a garbage can. Her charity, The Ladybug Foundation, which she founded in Winnipeg at age eight, promotes the basic human rights of adequate shelter and food. At 18, her activism now includes The Ladybug Foundation Education Program, which features “makeChange,” a K-12 resource to empower young people. Her work, including more than 175 speaking engagements, has raised more than $3 million for projects helping homeless people receive shelter, food, and safety.

  • Women’s Health and Security
  • Children’s Health and Wellness

Chelsea Noel

Chelsea Noel is working through their student community at Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus to promote acceptance of the LGBTTQ community. Involuntarily raised female, Noel identifies as genderqueer – not exclusively male or female – and with “they” pronouns. Having faced severe discrimination because of their identity, Noel struggled with substance abuse until they were sexually assaulted while intoxicated, and art drew them to sobriety and activism. A strong believer in solidarity, Noel works with Grenfell’s student community to raise awareness and hope, and expresses much of their activism through art. In 2014, the Egale Human Rights Trust recognized Noel’s story and work as part of their national Hear My Story campaign.

  • Gender and Sexual Diversity

Craig Kielburger

When Craig Kielburger was 12, he read about a Pakistani boy his own age named Iqbal, who had been killed for speaking against child labour. The injustice Kielburger then understood troubled him; Iqbal’s influence inspired him to co-found Free the Children with his brother Marc. Working with the premise of children helping children, Free the Children partners schools in “developed” countries with poorer ones in “developing” countries, invests in education and medical treatment, and raises awareness of the human rights issues children face. In 2008, the Kielburger brothers created Me to We, a socially conscious brand affiliated with Free the Children.

  • Displacement to Activism
  • Children’s Health and Wellness

Greg Masuda

Greg Masuda is a Japanese-Canadian filmmaker and photographer with a strong focus on displacement and dispossession, particularly in Japanese-Canadian history. His first major venture into the topic was a photography project called Dispossession, which he created with guidance and inspiration from fellow activist Lily Shinde. After the project received local attention and installation, his focus grew to producing a short documentary following the Japanese-Canadian story from internment to now. Featuring an interview with Arthur Miki, Children of Redress aired on the Knowledge Network in 2014. Masuda is now working on a multimedia project to display the Japanese Canadian community’s cultural history in Vancouver.

  • Equality and Redress

Lily Shinde

Often the victim of race-based bullying as a child, Japanese-Canadian Lily Shinde grew into strong beliefs in the rights of women of colour. With activism and speaking engagements spreading back to the 1980s, including the foundation of Third World Women’s and Women of Colour groups in Vancouver, Shinde is now a frequently sought guide for Japanese-Canadian issues. She has been involved with Japanese-Canadian politics and taught an original Feminist English course in Japan. Her focus is now more specifically on discrimination-based living issues, tracking ongoing displacement in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and finding solidarity with the Coast Salish peoples.

  • Truth and Reconciliation
  • Equality and Redress
  • Human Dignity

Roméo Dallaire

A retired lieutenant general and senator, Roméo Dallaire is known around the world for his leadership in the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. Through his attempts to end the killings of Tutsis and Hutu moderates, he witnessed the horrors of the genocide first hand. What he saw left him with severe posttraumatic stress disorder that ended his military career. It also left him with determination to make a change in genocide prevention and the lives of those affected by war. He founded the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which works to end child participation in war, and co-created the Will to Intervene Project, which researches and promotes ways to prevent genocide.

  • Crimes Against Humanity
  • Displacement to Activism

El Jones

Halifax’s poet laureate since 2013, El Jones, is an Afro-Métis spoken word activist who found solidarity with “the political, prophetic tradition of Afrikan (sic) Nova Scotia.” Jones’s activism came to her through her craft – she got involved to bring sincerity to her words. Finding her focus in prison outreach and youth engagement, Jones has developed a brand of slam poetry that aims to empower African Nova Scotians and match low reading comprehension levels. In 2014, she released her first book of poems, Live From the Afrikan Resistance! which seeks to both empower and educate.

  • Human Dignity
  • Equitable Education for All

Leesee Papatsie

Seeing exorbitant food prices in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and a struggle among Inuit families to put food on the table, Leesee Papatsie created the Feeding My Family movement on Facebook in 2012. She chose social media to unite the isolated communities of the North. The group now has upwards of 20,000 members who have organized protests and promoted a return to “country food” – more traditional diets based on the food directly available in the north. Papatsie’s movement seeks to combine modern communication with Inuit tradition, uniting northerners and encouraging food providers to find ways to supply better food for lower prices.

  • Children’s Health and Wellness
  • Cultural Identity and Education

Idle No More

Initiated by Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam, and Jessica Gordon’s Saskatchewan teach-in in late 2012, Idle No More is a national grassroots movement to build indigenous sovereignty. It aims to do so through peaceful protest pressuring the Canadian government to protect treaty rights and the environment. The movement gained national attention with its first Day of Action on December 10, 2012, which urged the federal government to protect indigenous land and rights, and to abandon the Northern Gateway pipeline project. Through media coverage and social media, Idle No More has spread across Canada, and continues to raise discussion about indigenous rights.

  • Truth and Reconciliation
  • Cultural Identity and Education
  • Equitable Education for All

Chief Darcy Bear

Chief Darcy Bear was first elected as chief of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in 1991 at age 23, into a band office with a deficit. With a focus of indigenous development and self-determination, Bear has worked for more than 20 years to improve economy and quality of life in his community. Among his more notable achievements are a reduced unemployment rate, from 70 per cent to 4.1, a self-governing land code, and increased transparency of band expenses. Under Bear’s leadership, the band now runs a golf course – allowing for the community to have more jobs than community members. He works with the goal of fostering First Nations economies from within as a part of the general Canadian economy.

  • Truth and Reconciliation
  • Equitable Education for All

Stephen Kakfwi

Stephen Kakfwi is a Dene activist, musician, former politician, and residential school survivor. Known for his direct approach, Kakfwi worked to guide the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Territories to an ability to engage in political matters, particularly the issue of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and in the establishment of Nunavut as a territory. He has served both as the Dene Nation President and as the premier of the Northwest Territories. Kakfwi works with the goal of balancing preservation of indigenous culture, language, tradition, and environment with full indigenous participation in the political and economic mainstream. He received the Aboriginal Achievement Award for Public Service in 1997.

  • Truth and Reconciliation
  • Equitable Education for All