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Defenders for Human Rights


Why a Canadian Adaptation of Speak Truth to Power?

When we first encountered Speak Truth to Power, we were impressed by its quality and innovative approach to human rights education. Each one of the partners saw an alignment with their own values and mandate. We were also struck by the international scope of the resource, and how several different countries had translated or adapted it to their own circumstances.  

As Canadians, and because of the nature of our work, we were aware of a number of courageous and inspiring Canadians defending human rights at home and abroad who could join the list of global defenders for human rights in Speak Truth To Power. Inspired by the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, inaugurated in 2014, we embarked on a partnership with the RFK Human Rights organization to create a Canadian version of the resource that reflected the Canadian contribution to the world’s human rights journeys from multiple Canadian perspectives. As partners, we share the desire to present Canadians, especially school children, with role models from their own country who are making a difference in the world today. Through a totally collaborative and consensus-based process over two years, we developed this learning resource based on a relationship of trust and respect for the contributions of each partner in their own area of expertise. 

In developing this resource, it was a very difficult task to limit ourselves to only 12 defenders from across Canada. Consideration had to be given to representation from Canada’s five regions, as well as to our diverse society and identities, so that students could see that human rights defenders can be younger or older, from any background, can do their work in a variety of professions and could be famous or less well-known. The list of defenders included in the resource is not meant to be a comprehensive or a final list of Canadian defenders for human rights. It is our intention to add to Speak Truth To Power Canada with additional defenders and lesson plans, including updates to those that are available currently. We hope that our initial selection will launch discussions and positive ripple effects at the school, community and country level.

We encourage you to communicate with us if you have any comments or feedback. Your input will ensure that we continue to grow STTP Canada in a manner that is befitting Canadian classrooms today, and tomorrow.

The project partners for Speak Truth to Power Canada, Defenders for Human Rights, are:

Speak Truth to Power

Speak Truth to Power Canada will include lesson plans on 11 Canadian defenders working domestically and one working internationally.

We encourage teachers to view all 51 global defender profiles of Speak Truth To Power for other human rights stories from around the globe.

To contact Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights about adapting this resource for your educational requirements, please communicate with [email protected].

Speak Truth To Power (STTP), a global program of the organization known as Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, is a multifaceted human rights education resource for schools that uses the experiences of courageous human rights defenders to educate and inspire students to take positive action. Issues covered range from crimes against humanity and children’s rights activism to Indigenous self-determination and citizen participation.

Every day, in places around the world, brave people take a stand when those in power violate their human rights or the rights of others. They speak truth to the powerful to protect the less powerful and, in many cases, risk their lives, livelihoods, and reputations.

STTP began as a book written by Kerry Kennedy, Speak Truth To Power, Human Rights Defenders Who are Changing Our World (2000), since translated into seven languages in multiple countries, including Sweden, South Africa and Japan. Photos from the original book by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams have been made into an exhibition, displayed on four continents. The book has been adapted into a dramatic production, Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark, by Ariel Dorfman, performed around the globe by some of the world’s most talented actors.

In summer 2015, a Canadian adaptation, appropriately titled Speak Truth to Power Canada, Defenders for Human Rights will be accessible to students around the world on the Internet in English and French, with some lessons available in indigenous languages (Cree, Mohawk and Inuktitut). The resource will also be accessible for the first time to those who use mobile devices.

A collaborative partnership project with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, led by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Assembly of First Nations, and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, focusses on Canadians that are making a difference at home and abroad.

Our mutual goal is to facilitate the teacher’s task of informing and enabling students to self-identify locally as human rights defenders on issues of importance in their very own communities. We encourage all Canadian teachers to share Malala’s advice with their students: “It is possible for every one of us to change the world.”

Partner Messages

Canadian Teachers’ Federation

We live in a dynamic, interconnected, beautiful, and at times troubled world. Filled with compassion and care for others, many people work tirelessly to realize the goal of respect for human rights and a good quality of life for everyone. Making this happen requires that people learn about human rights and the importance of empathy, critical thinking, and considered action in support of those in our communities who need our help. Speak Truth to Power Canada, Defenders for Human Rights is a teacher resource intended to facilitate pedagogy for responsible citizenship. By means of this resource, and through the work of teachers, STTP-Canada can enable students to learn about access to Rights from a grassroots to a global level. STTP-Canada can enable students to self-identify as local defenders for human rights in their very own communities.

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation is proud to offer this living resource for teachers, developed in full collaboration with four other organizations. This resource reflects their rich contributions and depth of expertise. We trust our collaborative efforts on this human rights initiative provide a positive example of how diverse people working together can achieve something wonderful. We wish you an insightful journey into the landscape of human rights.

Dianne Woloschuk
Canadian Teachers’ Federation

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

We know that Canadian educators are committed to human rights education. You’re looking for reliable, bilingual educational resources that speak to the Canadian context. Despite human rights being fully integrated across curriculum from K to 12, teachers continue to face challenges in the classroom. This resource is designed to help. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, with a mandate to encourage reflection and dialogue on human rights, has been pleased to participate in Speak Truth to Power Canada, Defenders for Human Rights. This collaborative project will help ensure the quality and accuracy of this teacher resource. Partnerships like this help us work together to grow the next generation of human rights defenders in Canada.

Gail Stephens
Interim President and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Assembly of First Nations

Indigenous peoples in Canada have protected our unique and important ways-of-being including our cultures, languages, traditional economies, ceremonies and governance systems. Part of this work also means defending our homelands, the plants, animals and all of creation. For centuries, Indigenous people have made this their life’s work, locally, nationally and internationally.

Over the last 30 years, Indigenous peoples in Canada lead the formulation, adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Assembly of First Nations is making its implementation fundamental to our ongoing efforts.

I am very proud of the AFN’s partnership with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) along with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on the Speak Truth to Power project.

Our task as those defending Indigenous rights will be made easier as younger generations of Canadians are empowered with historical truths and the development of empathy, a sense of justice and critical thinking skills. I thank the CTF for inviting us to take part in this important project.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde
Assembly of First Nations

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

The history of transition experienced by Inuit in Canada to move from a land based economy grounded on seasonal changes and animal migrations to settled communities exposed them to an education structure that took Inuit parents out of the equation in educating their child. This history of disempowerment has had a profound impact on the relationship that Inuit parents and students have with educators and the education system. The magnitude of this relationship cannot be understated because it forms the foundation of a person’s success in life and the collective contribution of how a society is shaped through education. Since the Prime Ministers apology in 2008 Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami through its Amaujaq National Center for Inuit Education has been working diligently with Inuit regional partners, territorial, provincial and federal government representatives to assist Inuit parents regain their power as primary educators of their children and to incorporate into the modern education system Inuit ways of teaching and transferring knowledge to the next generation.

As part of this work Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the National Committee on Inuit Education released the First Canadians, Canadians First: the National Strategy on Inuit Education in 2011. The development and release of the National Strategy lead to discussions on how parents, community leaders, teachers, and school administrators can work on improving student success in school. I believe that Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s partnership with the Canadian Teachers Federation on developing the Speak Truth to Power Lesson Plan that highlights the National Strategy on Inuit Education and Mary Simon as key figures takes us one step closer to meeting our goals set out in the Strategy.

We appreciate the Canadian Teachers Federation’s invitation to be a part of this forward thinking document and it has been our pleasure to be a partner in this important initiative.

Terry Audla,
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Chairperson, National Committee on Inuit Education

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Robert Kennedy once called education “the key to human dignity”—the key to a more just and peaceful world.

Speak Truth To Power in Canada and around the world engages students through the stories of human rights heroes. It encourages curiosity; fosters independent, disciplined thinking; and trains the next generation to right wrongs in their classrooms, communities, countries, and beyond.  In the struggle for human rights, there is no tool more powerful than education.

Speak Truth To Power will change the lives in Canada by enlivening classrooms, improving communities and engaging both creative teachers and curious students.  It encourages intellectual vigor, the pursuit of knowledge and the daring to create change.  Above all, it creates a new generation of students who are not only aware of human rights abuses, but prepared to do something about them.

John Heffernan
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Executive Director
Speak Truth To Power


The development and production of a resource such as this requires many hands, minds and hearts. We gratefully acknowledge the following contributors who have given time, energy, expertise and passion to develop Speak Truth to Power Canada, Defenders for Human Rights. Names are listed in alphabetical order. [* identifies members of the STTP Canada Workgroup.]

Canadian Teachers’ Federation

  • Brigitte Bergeron
  • Ronald Boudreau
  • Alex Davidson
  • Fulvie Désir
  • Greg Edwards
  • Francine Filion
  • Dr. Calvin Fraser*
  • Bernie Froese-Germain
  • Cassandra Hallett*
  • Nathalie Hardy
  • Patrick Jean
  • Ivan Kao
  • Sandra Lane
  • Marie-Hélène Larrue
  • Athina Lavoie
  • Denise Léger
  • Bob McGahey
  • Salwa Maadarani
  • Alain Monette
  • Paul Taillefer
  • Pauline Théoret*
  • Marie-Caroline Uhel
  • Dianne Woloschuk
  • Ian Wright
  • CTF Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Education
  • CTF Advisory Committee on Diversity and Human Rights
  • CTF Advisory Committee on the Status of Women

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

  • Lindsay Affleck
  • Karine Beaudette
  • June Creelman*
  • Jodi Giesbrecht
  • Emily Grafton
  • Jim Hounslow
  • Paula Kelly
  • Mireille Lamontagne*
  • Isabelle Masson
  • Linda Mlodzinski
  • Julia Peristerakis
  • Armando Perla
  • Sharon Reilley

Assembly of First Nations

  • Donnie Garrow*
  • LuAnn Hill*
  • Wayne Moonias
  • Jon Thompson*
  • Erin Tompkins

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Amaujaq National Centre for Inuit Education

  • Peter Geikie*
  • Heather Ochalski*
  • Sarah Aloupa

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Speak Truth to Power Program

  • Jenny Girardi
  • John Heffernan*
  • Karen Robinson*

Other Contributors

  • Marie Fraser*
  • Kate Hawkins
  • Scott McClinton
  • Gemma Pinchin
  • Paulette Rozon
  • Philippa Wolff*