They help some of the most vulnerable people in our society: children, the homeless and the marginalized. Edmontonians who champion human rights were honoured Sunday at a special ceremony.
For the past 10 years, the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights Awards have been honouring Edmontonians who go above and beyond when it comes to helping out their fellow citizens.
“This is a day that we do every year to commemorate the International Human Rights Day and to recognize the people that work endlessly in our community and now across the province to advance human rights,” Organizer Renee Vaugeois said.
The event coincided with International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, and also acted as a platform to discuss the work that still needs to be done.
“I know from experience that it’s a very thankless job in many respects,” Vaugeois said. “I know there’s been times in my life I wanted to give up. I’ve had awards given to me and that gave me that strength and resolve to keep going and to know that people are paying attention.”
“I feel that people who defend human rights, often do it at a cost,” she said. “A lot of the champions that were here today do it on their own time, free time, volunteer — so it’s really critical that they have that opportunity to be recognized and acknowledged.”
Robert Lee, a children’s advocate was honoured with the Gerald L. Gall Award Sunday for his work across the province.
“The more I did, the more problems that I saw,” Lee said.
The lawyer has represented victims of sexual abuse who he felt were not being treated fairly by the legal system.
“Right now, there’s a little more failure than success in the work that I do. Because it is so challenging, in a way I feel that I’m not worthy of it yet. I hope to help the people that I’m representing- and I’m not there yet,” he added.
Paula Kirman, recipient of the Human Rights Champion Award, said she was proud to be recognized.
“For my work to be recognized in this way, I feel that its given the last 11 years legitimacy, and it makes me look forward to doing even more in the future.”
Organizers said there are still many issues to overcome.
“The fact that we’re still not building homes and buildings to be accessible for people with disabilities; that we’re having hate propaganda across the province and across the country,” Vaugeois said.
“In relation to Islamophobia and the culture of fear that we’re living in now. Our Indigenous communities, our Indigenous children which are a huge representation in care and in the justice system and the barriers that they face as well as other minorities face in terms of accessing real justice,” Vaugeois went on to say.
“There’s so many issues in our country — things that people think are ‘over there’ problems.”
Vaugeois said there are ways everyone can be a champion for human rights.
“For the average person, the power of being a witness to human rights issues can be a huge step,” she said.
“We find, for example, people who maybe don’t have somebody to go to the doctor’s office with them, be a witness in the that process, somebody to go through a police complaint process. A lot of people are too afraid to go through processes, but if they have somebody walk along side them — it gives it all the more power — so to engage in human rights can be as simple as that.”
“It’s also about just being free and open to having conversations, being willing to challenge your ideas. I think the political discourse around humans rights needs to increase.”
Other recipients of the 2016 Human Rights Champion include: Kristina De Guzman, Roy Pogorzelski and Ruth Adria.