On the 60th anniversary of the enactment of Ontario’s Human Rights Code, in a YouTube premiere, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) presented the first-ever Daniel G. Hill Human Rights Awards, and honoured four recipients who have each made significant contributions to advance human rights in Ontario and beyond.
The Distinguished Service award was presented to Rabia Khedr, who has worked for over 30 years to advance disability rights. She consistently breaks barriers and changes perceptions with her vast knowledge and experience, and is a tireless community organizer who continues to reimagine ways one person can be the start of something big in advancing human rights.
The awards are named after Daniel G. Hill, who was the first director and first Black chair of the OHRC. Dr. Hill was one of the earliest human rights visionaries, who set a solid legacy that still resonates today.
Awards were given in three categories. The Young Leaders award was presented to Autumn Peltier, who is Anishinaabe-kwe, and a member of the Wiikwemkoong First Nation. She is a water protector who began her fight for Indigenous Canadians’ right to clean drinking water when she was eight years old. Now 17, she has campaigned for water protection around the world. She is one of the leading youth changers in the world today, and is an inspiration to young people and people of all ages.
The first of two Lifetime Achievement awards was presented to Kim (Brooks) Bernhardt, who began her human rights legacy at the genesis of the OHRC, when she accompanied her parents to meetings where key citizens like Louis Fine and Daniel G. Hill met to strategize to lobby the government to create the Commission.
She has served Ontario’s communities as a child, as a student, as a lawyer, an advocate, a teacher, a community partner, and most importantly, as a friend with vision and leadership to the benefit of communities across Ontario. Her work has ranged from setting up a strategic plan for anti-racism organizational change at the Ontario Nurses’ Association to playing a pivotal role in the major 2008 amendments to the Human Rights Code.
A Lifetime Achievement award was also presented to David Lepofsky. A lawyer who is blind, David has spent much of his career supporting Ontarians with disabilities, and is recognized across Canada as a disability/accessibility leader.
Among his many accomplishments, David was instrumental in winning two important cases against the Toronto Transit Commission to create audible and visual transit stop announcements – an innovation that has been adopted beyond Ontario to other parts of Canada and even other countries.
He also played a key advocacy role in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) becoming law in June 2005, and continues to challenge the landscape for people with disabilities in Ontario.
The OHRC received dozens of nominations, and choosing recipients was very challenging because there were so many deserving candidates. A special committee, which included members from the OHRC’s Community Advisory Group, reviewed and short-listed the nominations, and the OHRC Commissioners made the final decision.
“The Dr. Daniel G. Hill awards are just a small showcase of how the work of people across Ontario is positively transforming the human rights landscape,” said Chief Commissioner Patricia DeGuire. “I say thank-you to the myriad people and organizations across Ontario who continue, every day, to promote and reimagine human rights – a veritable tool in maintaining peace, order, and good government in Ontario.”