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Social Justice Awards

On Saturday June 9, 2007, Mayor David Miller, along with friends, family and supporters of progressive issues, celebrated four people and one organization in the Centre for Social Justice’s annual Social Justice Awards.

The Social Justice Awards recognizes those who devote their time and energy to the pursuit of social justice. These awards encourage youth, young adults and organizations to take action to improve their communities.  The awards celebrate those who work for social change and provide services to disadvantage members of our society.

The 2007 Social Justice Awards recognized the following:

  • Youth Award (age 12-19) -Clayton Thomas
  • Young Adult Award (age 20-29)- Rebecca Beayn
  • Neighbourhood Organizing Award -Myriam Canas-Mendes
  • Outstanding Achievement Award - The Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada
  • Life-time Achievement Award - John Rae

 
YOUTH AWARD

Clayton Thomas

Clayton Thomas was honoured with the Youth Award for his full time commitment to youth in the Jane and Finch area. 

Born and raised in the area, Thomas spent over 16 years playing basketball at Driftwood Community Centre, where he gained mentorship and leadership skills that helped him separate himself from gang violence, drugs, poverty and hopelessness. Clayton founded Recognize the Real, a grassroots Life Skills and Education organization. The program is run by well-respected leaders in the community, leaders who have gained an education but still remain tightly connected to Jane-Finch. It is supported by positive youth mentors who have succeeded in the wider community.

Recognize the Real works to reduce the current state of violence in the community by breaking down the walls that separate the north side of Jane-Finch (Crips) from the south side of Jane-Finch (Bloods). These two groups of youth are now starting to merge, and Recognize the Real is the only program that has successfully managed to bridge the gap between them.  It helps them build healthy levels of self-esteem, and encourages them to complete high school and go on to college.  There are now 109 youth attending the Recognize the Real program each week, which also reaches their siblings and school mates through life skills training and other events that are open to the community.

Each week, respected young adult volunteers from the Jane-Finch community convene two groups of 80-130 youth between the ages of 7 and 24. They practice teambuilding and develop their individual and leadership skills by drawing on their love of basketball and their desire to succeed. They also organize regular events to build community spirit and offer youth the chance to improve their public speaking and other communication skills.

The Youth Award is given to Clayton Thomas for finding ways to reach kids who don’t normally participate in youth programs. His efforts have helped the young people in his neighbourhood get involved in meaningful activities, raise their desire for education and find employment.

For more information visit:  http://www.myspace.com/recognize_the_real


YOUNG ADULT AWARD

Rebecca Beayni

Rebecca Beayni was given the Young Adult Award for her life example and persistent efforts advocating for social change for the undervalued and marginalized. 

Born with cerebral palsy and now 24 years old, Rebecca lives with a physical and developmental disability that requires complete dependence for her care on family and supporters.  While recognizing her vulnerability, Rebecca inspires those around her to think beyond their preconceived notions of who are the valuable people in our society.  Rebecca is a dancer, painter and an active citizen in her community.  Her full and engaging life offers a glimpse of what is possible when people find the space to ‘dream big enough’.

In 2005, Rebecca gave a presentation about the importance of interdependence and the role of family to a committee developing a UN Convention around the inclusion and self-determination of people with disabilities. Rebecca has also shared her life story through presentations at conferences, student retreats, and workshops. She not only addresses issues of disability but also the meaning of citizenship, peacemaking, and religious faith.  A video about her life entitled, “Revel in the Light” has been shown in several countries to teachers in training, faith groups, community agencies and organizations interested in disability issues and citizenship.

Aided by a supporter, Rebecca volunteers at the Rosalie Hall daycare, an agency which supports young mothers; at the Royal Ontario Museum where she assists visitors and school groups to see the often unnoticed details of the Bio-Diversity Exhibit; and at the Fontbonne Center, a resource center for isolated and impoverished women.  In the process, Rebecca has been described as changing the culture of the places she enters to be more socially conscious, peaceful, and compassionate. She is highly valued for the contribution she makes to all her endeavors.      

Rebecca draws others to her because of her passion, inspiration and commitment to making her community a place where all are welcome and valued.  Rebecca’s Heart Network is a circle of close friends and family who assist her in supporting her vision, and who are in turn grateful for all that Rebecca Beayni has brought to their lives, leading them towards justice and positive social change.

See www.Rebeccabeayni.com for more information (Rebecca focuses on a variety of issues including citizenship, community building and (dis)ability).

 
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

The Campaign to Stop Secret Trials

Under Canada’s new system of ‘security’ certificates, individuals have been detained without charges, held without bail, and subjected to secret trails without disclosure of evidence to the individuals or their lawyers. Individuals detained on ‘security’ certificates have been primarily Muslim men or men of Middle Eastern or Arabic background. Human-rights organizations, legal academics, and United Nations bodies, including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have expressed serious concerns about Canada’s use of the security certificate process.

The Campaign to Stop Secret Trials was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award for their persistent work to expose this situation, whereby several individuals have been held for up to seven years, many of them held in what is now known as ‘Guantanamo Bay North’.  Their efforts culminated in landmark human rights victories for all Canadians. On February 23, 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada found the secret trial security certificate procedure to be unconstitutional and upheld the principle that everyone merits a fair trail. The process for release of several detainees is currently underway.

For the past several years the Campaign organized extended personal support and court support for the detainees and their families. They organized mass letter writing campaigns, creative actions, and regular communiqués to the public when the media tired of covering the atrocities. When Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammed Mahjoub and Hassan Almrei began a life-threatening hunger strike (that lasted 70-80 days) protesting the conditions of their detention at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, the Campaign organized solidarity fasts and a MP lobby campaign that attracted media attention and a visit by two parliamentary committees (the Standing Committee on Public Safety and the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration) to the Kingston site. The committees each passed emergency resolutions calling for the Office of the Correctional Investigator to assume jurisdiction at Guantanamo North. The group’s work in the early part of this year revived the interest of the media and resulted in editorials in the Kingston Whig Standard and the Ottawa Citizen and media coverage in the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.

The Outstanding Achievement Award recognizes the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada for their court support work, their research and political action, and their support for the families of Canada's "disappeared."

 
NEIGHBOURHOOD ORGANIZING AWARD

Myriam Canas

Myriam Canas was given the Neighbourhood Organizing Award for her work in the Davenport West community.  A low-income single parent who works part-time at The Stop Community Food Centre, Myriam goes beyond the call of duty to fight for the health of low-income people in Davenport West. 

Myriam practices what she believes.   She is passionate about social justice, compassionate, patient and friendly to everyone she encounters, and fearless about speaking up for her community. She is generous even when times are hard.   On her own initiative and on her own time, she helps newcomers to settle in Toronto. She provides translation services free of charge to low-income people and helps them to find and negotiate services.   Myriam has helped to organize and animate her community to begin to address the root-causes of poverty – helping to organize special diet clinics, community meetings, and community participation in city and province-wide demonstrations.

Myriam takes her role as an advocate very seriously. She prepares thoroughly when she is invited to speak on behalf of different campaigns.   She asks for feedback on her speeches and presentations and takes the time to bounce ideas off different people.  She shows the same dedication in her individual advocacy, taking the time to do the necessary research and find the proper information for people regardless of the time that this consumes.

Myriam Canas consistently puts herself on the line, sacrificing her time and sometimes her own privacy for the greater good of her community.   She has lent her voice to campaigns by the Davenport West Leadership in Action project, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Campaign 2000, and Ontario Needs a Raise.   She is a tireless advocate for social justice and spokesperson for income security issues who has made a great contribution to the movement for income security throughout Ontario,

 
LIFE-TIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

John Rae

Over the last thirty years, John Rae has devoted himself to the advancement of equality in Canada.  He was awarded the Life-Time Achievement Award for his work in the labour movement and the disability rights movement, where he has worked tirelessly to make Canada’s laws, policies and practices more inclusive of the needs of disadvantaged Canadians.  

John Rae has been a long-time member and activist with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.  Within OPSEU, John served on his own Local executive and was a long standing member of OPSEU’s Disability Rights Caucus and its Provincial Human Rights Committee.  He also represented OPSEU at the Ontario Federation of Labour Persons with Disabilities Committee.  Until his retirement from the Ontario provincial government in January 2005, John represented the National Union of Public and General Employees on the Canadian Labour Congress’s Disability Rights Working Group for over six years.  He was also a member of National Union of Provincial and General Employee’s Equality Committee on Human Rights and International Solidarity. His efforts have made his union and the Canadian labour movement more aware of equality issues and more inclusive.

John is an exemplary volunteer worker who has shared his time, skills and talents with many non-profit organizations in the disability community, serving in an executive capacity with 21 different national, provincial and municipal organizations since 1975.  A few of his accomplishments follow:

Since 2002, John Rae has been the National President of the Alliance of Equality for Blind Canadians (AEBC), and since 2006, he has been the First Vice-Chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.  In both roles, he has made numerous presentations and written extensively to government officials as an advocate and role model for the blind, domestically and internationally.  John is also the Editor of the Canadian Blind Monitor, a board member of the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies, a member of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, and sits on the Steering Committee of the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice. He has led the fight in various human rights complaints to improve access to services. 

John has a long career as an activist. In the mid-1970’s he helped form one of the first disability rights organizations in Canada, the Blind Organization of Ontario for Self-Help Tactics (BOOST) and served as President of Boost from 1977 to 1980.  In 1970 and 1980, John co-chaired the Coalition on Human Rights for the Handicapped, which was the driving force behind achieving the first legislative human rights protection for persons with disabilities in Ontario. From 1978 until 1981, John was a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on the Disabled and Elderly for the City of Toronto; and he was a founding member and served as President from 1985 until 1988 of the Canadian Legal Advocacy Information and Research Association of the Disabled (CLAIR)

John Rae had spent a life time advocating for laws, programs and policies that make full and equal participation a reality for persons with disabilities. He has shown how the principle of full participation can be put into practice and how it can contribute to the development of inclusive societies in which all voices are heard. The Life-Time Achievement Award is given in recognition of John Rae’s successful struggle to promote human rights and assist persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups to participate more fully in all aspects of regular community life.