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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

Alex Neve

Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada since January of 2000, Alex Neve has been a defender of human rights and human dignity both internationally, in Africa and the Americas, and here at home in Canada. Born in Calgary, Alberta, and a recipient of the Order of Canada, Neve has fought for numerous causes, including Mexico’s crisis of disappearances, and how the Canadian justice system fails its Indigenous people. He has participated in numerous dangerous research missions on behalf of Amnesty International, has represented the organization at important international meetings such as the G8, and is a vibrant and effective spokesperson for Amnesty in the media.
  • Crimes Against Humanity
  • Human Dignity

Marilou McPhedran

Author, professor, researcher and advocate, Senator Marilou McPhedran is a staunch defender of especially the rights of girls and women, as well as those of patients in the Canadian health care system. Raised in Neepawa, Manitoba, Senator McPhedran, over the course of her very long career of human rights advocacy, has developed a number of human rights courses, chaired inquiries into the sexual abuse of patients, researched and authored international studies on a variety of women’s and health care topics, and founded the Institute for International Women’s Rights at Global College (Winnipeg). Senator McPhedran was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1985.
  • Women’s Health and Security
  • Children’s Health and Wellness

Sally Armstrong

Born in Montréal, Quebec, award-winning author, journalist, and human rights activist Sally Armstrong has worked tirelessly to expose the true plight of women and girls in international zones of conflict. In addition, she monitors the status of women at home in North America. She has travelled to all four corners of the globe, with pen and camera in hand, documenting the experiences, the abuses, the hopes and the victories of the disadvantaged, the marginalized and the oppressed. Armstrong has added speaker, guest-lecturer and story teller to her long list of impressive talents, and has won many prestigious awards, earned many honorary degrees, and received the Order of Canada.
  • Women’s Health and Security
  • Children’s Health and Wellness

Bridget Perrier

“I was exploited by people around me who were put in place to protect me.” Bridget Perrier, born in Thunder Bay Ontario, given up for adoption, and subsequently raised in a “large, loving, non-Native family,” ended up lured into a life of prostitution by age 12. After a journey of healing spurred on by the death of her son, Perrier now chooses to educate others, as a motivational speaker, about the truths and myths surrounding prostitution, and about human trafficking, especially in Indigenous communities. She is a graduate of the Community Worker Program (George Brown College, Toronto), and was a recipient of the YWCA Woman of Distinction Turning Point award in 2006.
  • Women’s Health and Security
  • Human Trafficking

Mary-Woo Sims

Born in Hong Kong in 1956, Mary-Woo Sims first moved to Canada in 1970, and became a Canadian citizen in 1978. She is a social justice activist, politician, and former chief commissioner of the British Columbia Human Rights Commission. A strong advocate for lesbian, gay and same-sex spousal rights, Sims spent her time in both Vancouver and Toronto, where her involvement in a number of community activist initiatives included the Campaign for Equal Families, the WAVAV Rape Crisis Centre, the Ontario Employment Equity Tribunal, and the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services. She now is a partner at Ardent Consulting Canada, which specializes in positive organizational change.
  • Gender and Sexual Diversity
  • Human Dignity
  • Labour Rights

Maziar Bahari

Born in Tehran, Iran, in 1967, Maziar Bahari immigrated to Canada in 1988. With a degree in Communications (Concordia, Montréal) which he earned in 1993, Bahari embarked on a career of journalism and filmmaking. A staunch activist, he has produced numerous documentaries on a wide variety of topics, including human rights abuses in especially the Middle East. Very respected in his field, Bahari has been a jury member of numerous international film festivals, he has had a retrospective of his films organized by the International Documentary Film Festival (Amsterdam, 2007), and had published by Random House his family memoirs, entitled Then They Came for Me (June 2011).
  • Crimes Against Humanity
  • Human Dignity

Dr. Andrew and Joan Simone

Both Dr. Andrew Simone and his wife Joan have been helping children for decades, through their charities “Canadian Food for Children” and “Silent Children’s Mission.” A successful Harvard-trained Toronto dermatologist, Dr. Simone’s life took a turn when, realizing he lacked fulfillment from the accumulation of wealth, he began a longstanding correspondence with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who initially asked him to send food to starving children in Tanzania and Ethiopia. Their first charity serves over 20 developing countries; their mission charity provides basic needs, health and spiritual care, and counseling, so that women, children and their families know that there is someone who cares. Both recipients of the Order of Canada, Andrew and Joan are now retired, but their work continues to ease suffering across the globe.
  • Women’s Health and Security
  • Children’s Health and Wellness
  • Human Dignity

Paul Winn

Since the early 1980s, Paul Winn has been an effective activist in the fight against racism in Canadian society. A former civil servant with the BC government and a former broadcaster with the CBC, Winn has assisted countless governmental departments and agencies to design and implement non-racist procedures and strategies for the implementation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and for affirmative action. He has also assisted police forces with race relations policies, and through his work with the CBC, trained visible minority writers in the development of scripts for TV dramas. Holding a Bachelor of Law from UBC, Winn has received numerous accolades due to his continued involvement in Canadian cultural organizations.
  • Equality and Redress

Nazanin Afshin-Jam

Former singer/songwriter and Miss World Canada, Nazanin Afshin-Jam is now an international human rights activist, author, and co-founder of Stop Child Executions. Born in 1979 in Tehran, Iran, she fled the Islamic revolution as a child, arriving in Canada with her parents in 1981. Appointed to the board of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, Afshin-Jam, “a voice for the voiceless,” is now a motivational speaker whose appearances include the UN, Ted-Ed, a number of universities, and various media outlets. Her aforementioned charity works towards ending the practice of child executions in Iran and in a handful of other countries.
  • Displacement to Activism
  • Children’s Health and Wellness

Jean-Louis Roy

Hailing from Normandin, Quebec, Jean-Louis Roy is a celebrated diplomat, journalist, author, researcher and academic. His education background (Laval, McGill) reveals his passion for History, Philosophy and Geopolitics. Roy has taught across eastern Canada and in Paris, and he has demonstrated, through involvement with various groups, his love of “la Francophonie.” Human rights organizations and governments have often called upon his expertise, and in 2008, he founded the UPRW (Universal Periodic Review Watch), which monitors to what extent UN member states comply with human rights standards. He has received accolades for his work from across the globe, including the Ordre national du Québec.
  • Inclusion for All
  • Human Dignity