Category Archives: Harmony Award Winner

Mandi Gray

2018: Mandi Gray

2018 Harmony Award

Mandi Gray

By Kelly Showker

In activist and feminist communities, we often hear the bromide “the personal is political”, but few embody this phrase to the benefit of others as boldly as Mandi Gray.
I met Mandi in late 2015, a month before she was scheduled to begin testifying in a sexual assault trial. What I saw in the following months and learned from Mandi appalled and saddened me — it also made me realize how brave Mandi truly is.

When her university refused to act following the arrest of her colleague for sexually assaulting her, she marched across campus with a sign saying “Rape Survivor”, demanding the university take her seriously. Mandi and her colleagues formed the campus-based group Silence is Violence in order to fight for justice and battle institutional resistance to responding to sexual violence. Multiple branches of Silence is Violence formed, opened by survivors at different universities.

Later that year, she filed a human rights complaint against York University for systemic gender discrimination. Her complaint resulted in the university partnering with a sexual assault centre to provide free counselling services to all university campus members who had experienced sexual violence.

During the criminal trial and the ongoing human rights complaint, Mandi allowed us into her life. As we filmed with lawyers, therapists, experts, a sexual assault evidence kit nurse and others, I saw Mandi’s dedication to helping victims of assault. Even with strangers making hateful threats, she stayed focused on the goal of eradicating institutional rape culture and supporting survivors.

The documentary, Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial, premiered at Hot Docs and has now screened at universities in nearly every province in Canada. The film explains how the legal system handles sexual assault and urges society to re-examine beliefs around rape culture. Mandi tours with the film, speaking to groups of students, educating the public, and working with activists to provide resources for women reporting sexual assault. She also attends trials to support victims and works with student groups.

By organizing and speaking publicly, by using legal tools to force change, and by engaging with the media, Mandi has created a new paradigm for survivors of sexual assault — one that is not broken or meek but is powerful and persuasive, unafraid to demand justice — one that is no longer a victim, but a victor.

Kelly Showker is a documentary filmmaker and public speaker focused on the impacts of gender-based violence.

2017: Toronto Unity Mosque

2017 HARMONY AWARD

El Tawhid Juma Circle: Toronto Unity Mosque

Troy Jackson’s story:

We started El Tawhid Juma Circle, or Toronto Unity Mosque, out of necessity and of love. ETJC went from a bright idea to reality, because we believed, and still do, that all people are equal in and before Allah/God.

Starting in May 2009, El-Farouk Khaki, Laury Silvers and I started meeting in my office every Friday afternoon. Every Friday for two years, I would push out my office furniture into El-Farouk’s office so people could gather to pray and find community there.

We created ETJC because we wanted a mosque space which affirmed the dignity of all peoples; where diversity is celebrated not merely tolerated, where women exercise equal divine agency, and where LGBTIQ people are affirmed. We all enter the world through a woman. To exclude the female voice from the chorus of our collective narrative is to silence more than half of the collective stories of the human race.

Our mosque is an affirming space where people are celebrated and not just tolerated. It is part of a growing movement for the manifestation of an inclusive, compassion-centered Islam. Our journey since 2009 has been long, sometimes difficult, frustrating, frightening, and even lonely. Our mosque/ movement is a manifestation of the adage “Build it and they will come”. I recall the many Fridays when it was only El-Farouk, Troy and I. Now, alhamdulillah, our Friday service draws between 24 to more than 50 attendees.

ETJC is a healing space for some of our community members. Those who have experienced trauma in the name of religion and in the name of Islam in particular, can come to be healed and to reclaim their Islam. Many are incredulous that such a mosque exists. We regularly witness tears, especially from new congregants, simply because we do exist. Now, ETJC has affiliated communities across Canada and the United States, and has resourced similar, inclusive mosque spaces globally.

ETJC is a transformative space and I am honoured to being a part of it.

Troy Jackson is a co-founder of ETJC and an Afro-Metis singer, writer and social commentator.

Sabat Ismail’s story:

The ETJC Toronto Unity Mosque is many things to me. It’s a place of spiritual healing where you can be yourself and come as you are, no matter who you are.

The ETJC is unconventional in comparison to other mosque spaces, while the rituals, prayers and structuring of the space continue to be rooted in traditional Islamic practices. The space is reformative in comparison to other mosque spaces and provides a space for unity for God and her creation.

The mosque has provided me a place where I can be empowered by my faith and community. Leading prayer, delivering the athaan (call to prayer), and sitting side by side with all congregants has been empowering and enriching. For me, the mosque is a place of spiritual healing and learning. Considering the spiritual trauma I experienced in other mosque spaces, I could not imagine the strengthening and deepening of my faith without my community and family at El-Tawhid.

Sabat Ismail is a Canadian of Ethiopian descent and a member of the Toronto Unity Mosque.

Farheen Fathima Ahmed’s story:

Throughout my life, I learned of countless examples of Islam being a compassionate, free religion. The Quran stated that God is the most compassionate and merciful. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) loved and married a strong, independent businesswoman. He once sought help from a Christian king who drew a line in the sand and told Muhammad (PBUH) that only such a line divided their religions. Regardless of gender and regardless of faith, we are all the same in God’s perspective.

Toronto Unity Mosque promotes the compassion that Islam encourages. Differences between Muslims and other religions are celebrated. We, the community, are shown that we all have something to contribute to Islam. It’s a safe space for all of us. It’s why I keep coming back.

Farheen Fathima Ahmed is new member of the Toronto Unity Mosque. She is of South Asian descent and a student at the University of Toronto.

Video: El Tawhid Juma Circle/Toronto Unity Mosque award acceptance.

RISE Photo

2016: RISE Collective

RISE Photo2016 Harmony Award: RISE Collective

HARMONY AWARD

RISE Collective

By Letecia Rose

Have you ever gone to a place where you felt yourself being lifted? Where people rejoice, dance, break into song, and warmly embrace strangers? Where emotions are worn freely on sleeves; where men and women shed tears together? Where words inspire and provide food for the soul?

This is what you will find every Monday at Burrows Hall in Scarborough. Hundreds of young people gather weekly to share in positivity, edutainment and of course, listen to poetry. They come to be elevated, surge upward, be uplifted, experience growth, transform – they come to rise.

Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere (RISE) has become more than a movement; it has become a space for people from all walks of life to gather and share collective energy and collective impact. And the impact is vast and deep. In five short years, this youth-led movement has entered the consciousness of Toronto, performing at various institutions and headlining multiple events.

But their work extends beyond smooth verses and captivating rhythms. RISE has used their platform to work with the City of Toronto to influence policy by artistically hosting various community town halls. They use their poetry to grace the pages of the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy and the Poverty Reduction Report.

I first met the creator and innovator behind RISE, Randell Adjei, in 2012. Quite frankly, he blew me away. He told me of this little group that he started that brought out twenty to thirty people weekly. He believed that young people needed an outlet to share and be creative. According to him, there was no space like it. He was convinced that this space was going to change the city.

I was convinced that he was right.

So far, the work of RISE has garnered the attention of some of the legends in the Toronto arts industry. They use their platform and stage to train, mentor and provide artistic development for emerging artists, providing them with the opportunity to be heard and feel validated by a supportive community. They root their teachings in anti-oppressive frameworks and create equitable safe spaces of dignity and respect.

In July of 2012, gunfire erupted over a crowd on Danzing Street, fatally taking the lives of Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay. Many others were wounded and injured. It was one of the worst acts of violence in Toronto’s history and a moment that critically impacted Scarborough and the rest of the GTA.

However, many of the young people who should have been there made a different choice that evening. They went to RISE. Since then, RISE has made it their mission to advocate for safe spaces and self-expression for all.

As the former Director of Education at Harmony Movement, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most dynamic and inspiring change makers in the province. I can say without hesitation that RISE is in a league of its own. I owe my creative resurgence and renewed passion for creating opportunities for young people to their ingenuity and constant innovation.

The RISE collective is creating an environment of social change by cultivating spaces for young people to address issues that really matter to them and their community. RISE is making the invisible, visible. It is a movement is so powerful and poetic; you have no choice but to listen. And from there all change is possible.

Letecia Rose is an arts educator, facilitation trainer, and community engagement specialist. She is currently Manager of Public Engagement at Plan International Canada. 

Video: RISE Collective award acceptance.

2015 Harmony Award Desmond Cole

2015: Desmond Cole

Desmond ColeHarmony Award Winner - Desmond Cole

When I met Desmond Cole several years ago, I was immediately drawn to his strength of character and ability to truly cherish life and revel in the moment.

We acknowledged each other at first with just a nod that day. That nod, shared between strangers, spoke a lot more than just a greeting. It is an acknowledgement, an unspoken recognition that even though we don’t know each other, we share an important common experience and obstacle.

That nod suggested a knowing that we have at least this one thing in common, the struggle associated with navigating a world dominated by a culture that views you as not just a minority, but often a threat.

As our friendship grew we realized that we had both needed to learn at a young age how to act and react in any given situation to differentiate ourselves from the perceived image put upon us as black men, a skill shared by all those who have been marginalized.

Later, when I became a new teacher, I took much inspiration from Desmond as a friend, leader and ally. I admired his determination and focus, especially because he had to carve his own path. There is no guidebook that leads to becoming a widely recognized voice for the Black Community. His path was entirely of his making, built on the back of his passion and determination to challenge the status quo.

One Sunday as we were watching football together and learning about one another, I asked Desmond what subject he would wish to tackle if given the opportunity. Without hesitation, he said the issue of police carding.

I was surprised and worried by his choice. I worried that he would alienate himself from a mainstream audience. I admired his bravery and willingness to express his views and although worried for him I was relieved that someone like Desmond was going to take on this important issue.

When I saw him on the cover of Toronto Life, I felt hopeful - a feeling that I haven’t felt for a long time. I felt the winds of change blowing and I was excited about what would happen next.

Desmond’s candor in sharing his story of frustrating violation of rights struck a chord not only with me and the Black community but with his growing audience of people who empathize and realize that injustice is injustice, even if it’s not applicable to you.

By being an advocate, taking a stance and putting his professional career and future on the line, Desmond became a face and a voice for those who may not have been heard or seen in the media before. Demonstrating that he was not just an advocate typing behind the safety of his workspace and a laptop keyboard, Desmond went straight into the fray, travelling south to Ferguson, Missouri during the height of racial tensions, writing of his experiences and expressing the bitter emotions of the community.

He has since become a unifying force and voice of the Black Lives Matter movement. He has effectively used all his platforms - writing for the Torontoist, his radio program on Newstalk 1010, his Canadaland podcast with Andre Domise, social media, and now as a columnist for the Toronto Star - to bring important issues of inequity to the mainstream.

Desmond is the epitome of what it means to be an agent of change, his efforts and hard work have allowed his story and those of so many others to be brought into the greater discussion of what it is to be Canadian and how we envision a future of equity for all of us.

Desmond embodies everything that Harmony Movement sets out to teach our youth, modelling how to be an effective advocate for change, making a significant difference for the better. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.

Kirk Morris is a high school teacher at Peel District School Board. He is a longtime friend of Desmond Cole and they bond over Sunday football and political chatter.

Video: Desmond Cole acceptance award.

Jeremy Dias

2014: Jeremy Dias

Jeremy Dias

This year we will be honouring Jeremy Dias the 2014 recipient of the Harmony Award. As founder of Jer’s Vision and the International Day of Pink, Jeremy has been working to build more inclusive schools and communities throughout Canada. His organization works with youth and adults to tackle the issues of bullying and discrimination.

Jeremy Dias was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and grew up there until moving to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where he attended high school. As a youth, he was motivated by social and political inequality to take action, volunteering with numerous organizations and charities. In high school he started and lead a number of clubs including Stop Racism and Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving. He also founded and coordinated the Sault Ste. Marie first regional LGBTQ youth group.

After coming out in high school, Jeremy faced extreme cases of discrimination by students & school officials. At 17, he began a legal case against his school and school board, and at 21 won Canada’s second largest human rights settlement. Jeremy used the money to found Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative, the international Day of Pink and the Jeremy Dias Scholarship.

Video: Jeremy Dias award acceptance.

Nishiyuu Walkers

2013: Nishiyuu Walkers

Johnny Abraham. Stanley George Jr.Travis George. David Kawapit. Raymond Kawapit. Geordie Rupert. Say these names out loud, tell your family and your friends about them. These are names all Canadians should know.

Accompanied by their experienced guide and community uncle, the late Isaac Kawapit, these six youth ranging in age from 17 to 22 from Great Whale, located in Northern Quebec on the shores of Hudson’s Bay, responded to a calling in the cold winter of 2013.

A calling that spoke directly to their hearts. A calling that brought out their deepest strengths and their most resilient qualities as young Indigenous youth, as Cree young men, as warriors.

The journey of Nishiyuu started on January 16, 2013 from Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuaraapik and arrived at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 25, 2013. Fifteen hundred kilometres of walking through the rough terrains of their traditional territory to dirt roads, to highways, to city streets.

Supported by their community of Whapmagoostui First Nation, a community of 950 people located just above the 55th parallel on the eastern Hudson Bay coast, at the mouth of the Great Whale River, on the border of the Cree and Inuit lands, the youth endured the -55c arctic tundra, the northern forests, mountains and rapids to make their trek partially by snowshoe, to reclaim their traditional Cree/Algonquin trading routes, their Cree traditions, and to prove to other First Nations and Canadians what it TRULY is to “idle no more”.

It’s one thing to sit at a computer and blog about it, to tweet, to post on Facebook, or to protest and rally, but the way Chief Theresa Spence’s message resonated with the Nishiyuu youth was the old way. The way we were before technology. And what we can learn from the Nishiyuu is to remember.

We can remember how our communities used to be, when we sat in circles and spoke to one another. How funny and humorous our communities used to be. The old way where every child sat in the circle and every single person was recognized for their gifts and their skills.

Guided by their uncle who was strong in community ways, the old ways, the Nishiyuu walkers connected with their roots and had an opportunity to see their traditional lands in a way they had never before. They saw firsthand the land and territory they are protecting and defending.

The youth were able to meet and join with other First Nations to share their message, they were empowered by the hundreds of supporters who joined the walk from Chisasibi, Waswanipi, Missitissini and Kitigan Zibi near Maniwaki, Quebec.

These young men returned to their communities as strong young leaders of an Indigenous movement that is growing all over the world. They have reminded us that the earth as it continues to be impacted by resource extraction and climate change, the earth is calling us to wake up, to remember and learn the old ways, and to continue to walk our traditional lands and territories, taking in its beauty, its harmony and its power.
This is the mission statement the Nishiyuu wrote: “I know we, the youth have no knowledge, but we believe we can do this. The Great Spirit will watch over us. Do not have doubt. We are the future. We choose to bring back the old ways. We know that this journey will be hard. We will pray and we will help each other – look after each other. The reason why we are taking this Journey is to show support to Theresa Spence, and the Idle No More Movement, to show the people that our tradition remains strong.”

By Harmony Redsky

Harmony Redsky is Anishinaabekwe from Wasauksing First Nation and lives in Kenora, Ontario. She is a writer and multimedia producer, and the Creative Principal/Owner of Roots & Rights Media. Harmony was voted as one of Canada’s most influential women in Chatelaine in 2008.

Video: Nishiyuu Walkers award acceptance.

Munira Abukar

2012: Munira Akubar

Munira Abukar

Munira Abukar is a fiery and inspiring advocate whose track record, at age 20, reads like that of a veteran community leader. Named one of Chatelaine Magazine’s 2011 Women of the Year in the “Hot 20 Under 30” category, she is an aspiring lawyer passionate about achieving justice and equity on many fronts. From trailblazing tenant advocacy to refugee rights education, Munira’s work reflects her tenacious commitment to the wellbeing of others.

Munira, a third year Criminal Justice student at Ryerson University, has worked as a committee member with organizations such as the Somali Tenant Association, the Ontario Justice Education Network, the Tenant Engagement Reference Committee, and the Ryerson University Faculty of Arts. She has organized national conferences with the Canadian Council for Refugees, educated as a Youth Safety Animator with Toronto Community Housing, volunteered for the Friendship Food program, and served as the president of Zonta Club of Toronto. She has also served as the Student Ambassador of the Westmount Parent Council and the secretary of two parent councils.

Munira’s outspoken advocacy within the Toronto Community Housing Corporation is particularly trailblazing. She got involved in tenant’s rights activities early on, as she has lived in TCHC housing all of her life. After being elected as the youngest-ever member of the TCHC Board of Directors in May of last year, the Toronto Star described her as “part of the new wave of ultra-young voices popping up across the country’s political and public service scene.” Since taking on the position, she has continued to champion tenant rights in her inimitably upfront and passionate style.

Harmony Movement commends Munira’s integrity, optimism, and vision. Her volunteer and activist work epitomize Harmony Movement’s mission of educating youth to be leaders for social change.

Video: Munira Abukar award acceptance.

Bilaal Rajan

2011: Bilaal Rajan

Bilaal RajanFourteen year-old Bilaal Rajan isn’t your average young person. The Toronto-based children’s and environmental activist is also a globally recognized motivational speaker, best-selling author, tireless fundraiser, and UNICEF Canada Ambassador. He founded Making Change Now to heighten awareness of youth issues and help kids in need all over the world.

“My main goal is to have one million young people take action, get involved in their communities and help protect our environment,” says Bilaal, whose accomplishments became the content of his bestselling book, Making Change: Tips from an Underage Overachiever. In it, Bilaal focuses on being creative, thinking big and being bold. He shows young people how possible – and how much fun – it really is to make a difference.

Bilaal has raised millions of dollars for programs that help children in need, and has spoken to thousands of people in two dozens countries on six continents. Through his busy speaking schedule, Bilaal is raising further awareness about the relationship between environmental harm and global poverty. “Further damage to our ecosystems will cause underprivileged children even greater hardship,” he says. “We can’t let global warming continue to threaten the waterways, agriculture and food security of millions of people in underdeveloped countries. We need action now.”

Sol Guy and Josh Thome

2009: Sol Guy and Josh Thome

Sol Guy Josh Thome

Sol Guy and Josh Thome are the co-founders of DCM, and the co-creators, co-producers and co-directors of 4REAL.

Sol Guy and Josh Thome went to school together in British Columbia. In high school, Josh helped launch the nationwide Environmental Youth Alliance comprising more than 60,000 students and went on to build similar networks with youth leaders around the world. He later won the Sierra Club President’s Award for his work.

After high school, Sol decided to pursue a career in New York City, and quickly became one of the top young executives in the music industry. Sol manages some of the world’s most renowned hip-hop and rap artists, including Canada’s own K’naan.

In 2001, Sol and Josh reunited in order to seek ways to engage youth globally through art, music, culture and digital media. 4REAL was founded in 2003 as a documentary series on CTV and MTV using celebrities raise public awareness of social issues around the world.

4REAL has become a global force with Canadian roots. The TV series now airs in 166 countries and 34 languages. In 2008, Sol and Josh became the first Canadians to receive the National Geographic Emerging Explorers Award for their work.

Based in Vancouver, 4REAL uses the power of the media to inspire young people both in Canada and around the world to take action for positive social change. Youth from over 200 Canadian communities are members on the 4REAL online community at 4REAL.com, where members can direct funds to their favourite cause.

Sol and Josh continue to give presentations around the country, inspiring people to help change some of the most critical issues of our time.

For more on Sol Guy and Josh Thome see A Global Force with Canadian Roots by Sharline Chiang.

Romeo Dallaire

2008: Roméo A. Dallaire

Romeo Dallaire

L. Gen. The Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire, (Ret’d), Senator, has had a distinguished career in the Canadian military. Dallaire is currently writing a book about child soldiers.

By Steve Lurie

At the height of the crisis in Rwanda, I remember Prime Minister Jean Chrétien telling the CBC that the UN had a good commander there, a general from Quebec. He was referring to Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire.

Little did we know at the time how difficult it was for General Dallaire and how he tried against all odds to prevent the genocide, receiving little support from either the UN or the major powers. Whether it was racism, a reluctance to see a repeat of the debacle in Somalia or both, the world stood by and left General Dallaire and his colleagues holding the bag.

We did not know at the time that the events unfolding in Rwanda would later bring an end to General Dallaire’s illustrious career in the Canadian military and paradoxically also make him a hero as well as an acclaimed author, advocate and Senator.

Romeo Dallaire was born in Holland, but returned to Canada as a young child and went on to military college, where he began a distinguished career as a soldier as well as a senior public servant in the department of defense. A decorated Lt. General, Roméo Dallaire served for 35 years with the Canadian Armed Forces. He served in various postings and command positions including Quebec City, Gagetown, U.S. Marine Corp Staff College in Virginia, and in Ottawa. He attended the first British Higher Command staff course during the Gulf War. His most famous command appointment, however, was his peacekeeping and United Nations Assistance mission as Commander – United Nations Observer Mission: Uganda and Rwanda.

And then, in 1999, he was found on a park bench near the Ottawa River, his life and career in tatters, because of the profound trauma of his experiences in Rwanda. As we all know, fortunately the story did not end there. With the help of his family and mental health services, General Dallaire pulled his life back together and courageously told the story of the Rwandan genocide to the world in both book and film. In recounting his harrowing experiences bearing witness to humankind’s darkest hour, General Dallaire brought our attention not only to our own evils, but also to the reality of child warfare, to the current crisis in Darfur, and to the necessity of caring about other calamities – even when they occur on the other side of the globe.

It is also General Dallaire’s own recovery from post traumatic stress disorder, his advocacy for improved mental health services in the armed forces and his public telling of his own story about his struggles with mental illness that we celebrate and honour with the Harmony Award.

It takes enormous courage to acknowledge one’s own struggles with mental illness. Senator Michael Kirby, who now heads the Mental Health Commission of Canada, tells the story of a woman who was hospitalized twice, once for breast cancer, and once for mental illness. While recovering from cancer she received flowers, phone calls and visitors. Admitted to hospital with a mental illness, no one showed up or called.

While one in five of us will experience a mental illness this year, most people will not seek or receive treatment. Some of this is due to lack of access to services, some of this is due to lack of knowledge about what services are available, and unfortunately, a great deal of this is due to stigma and shame.

By telling his own story, Roméo Dallaire has brought mental illness out of the closet and into public view. He joins a cast of other public Canadian figures including Margaret Trudeau, Michael Wilson, Michael Kirby and Margaret Kidder. This is hugely important, as experience in other countries as well as our own shows that if public figures can acknowledge their struggles or their relatives’ struggles with mental illness, it becomes easier for us to understand what many of us go through, whether as individuals, or as family and friends of those suffering. Public knowledge, understanding and support are key ingredients to ensuring that mental health services are recognized and funded as a core service of our health care system, and that communities and workplaces foster inclusion of people who live with mental illness.

When honoured a few years ago by the Centre For Addiction and Mental Health, Senator Dallaire noted that guilt is one of the most debilitating aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder, now recognized by several countries as the “Peacekeepers Injury.” Dallaire remarked, “In peacekeeping you are not fighting. An individual sergeant or corporal who witnesses such actions and cannot use force goes through a mental crash. His moral values, his ethical values, his religious beliefs are brought together and they’re all crashing against the unthinkable.”

Given Canada’s continued involvement in the world’s crisis regions, General Dallaire’s observation that there is a new generation of veterans who suffer from injuries to the mind more so than the body requires our acknowledgement and appreciation. An injury of the mind is just as debilitating as an injury of the physical body and must be treated with the same sense of urgency and completeness.

This principle must be reflected in society at large as well as the armed forces. Retired Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire is being honored tonight for bringing both the impact of Rwandan genocide and the impact of mental illness to our attention and making sure that we do something about it. For that, I offer him my deepest thanks and congratulations.

Steve Lurie is the Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Toronto Branch. He has been working in the field of mental heath for over two decades.

Toronto Star

2007: Toronto Star

Toronto Star

The Toronto Star is Canada’s largest daily newspaper, with the largest readership in the country.

By Gordon Cressy

Throughout the many years I have spent in activism, I have witnessed tonight’s award recipient maintain a strong presence during moments of great moral challenge and great moral confusion. I have witnessed their swift and rightful responses in times of disgrace, when others have faltered.

For more than a century, this wonderful media organization has covered issues that should matter to any civil society. It has created concerns and brought awareness for the right kinds of topics. Not only that, but it has searched for alternative answers and alternative to our celebrity-saturated mainstream media, declaring, ‘No, this is what matters.’

I have come to heavily depend on its capacity to behave as a gauge for justice, its willingness to call out for attention whenever it sees the codes of equality being undermined. At a time of distrust, jingoism, parochialism and retreat from pluralist principles, most mainstream media depend on merely to beating the drums of sensationalism, driving groups and individuals into further fear and isolation. Not the Toronto Star.

It is with great honor that we present the Toronto Star with the Harmony Award for its relentless commitment to equality, intelligent discourse, anti-racism, civic engagement, and peace. This very commitment emanates from every page of the Star, with stories penned by an immensely diverse team of talented, diligent individuals including David Lewis Stein, Michele Landsberg, Haroon Siddiqui, Nicholas Keung, Linda McQuaig, and Royson James. And now, making history, Jagoda Pike has become both the first female and first immigrant to take on the role as publisher. As clearly shown, the Star’s commitment to diversity is not empty rhetoric; it is a commitment that is put into practice not only by the issues it values as newsworthy, but also by those whom it chooses to represent.

This gifted team embodies the standards of responsible, engaging, and engaged journalism, done with integrity and an unfaltering hope for a better world. And perhaps the Toronto Star could never have managed to attract such a high number of qualified, quality journalists were it not for Joseph E. Atkinson, the Star’s late publisher – who ran the newspaper from 1899 to 1948 – and who set in motion the ideas and values that have become synonymous with the publication.

The courageous Atkinson is the man credited for turning the dying, conservative newspaper into the blooming, forward-thinking daily that it is today – boasting a vast readership spanning far beyond the borders of Toronto.

Atkinson was a man of tremendous vision. The newspaper, he believed, should be used for the social good; it should perform a community function, meaning that it needed to act – first and foremost – in the interests of the citizens i served. As long ago as the early stages of the 1900s – when Atkinson first took over the reins of the paper – he was already speaking the language of justice that we now take for granted.

The Atkinson Principles, for instance, is a set of guidelines he developed. Atkinson felt it was imperative that a large city newspaper, lik/romeo%20da;;aire explore, its stories becoming a launching ground for people to demand change in the face of injustice.

The examples of its outstanding content are endless.

The Star could be counted on to document the outcry that resulted after W5, a televisions newsmagazine program which broadcasted the infamous “Campus Giveaway” story. The story argued that Canadian universities were facing a crisis; namely, that ‘foreigners’ were taking the places of Canadian students. In making this claim, however, W5 used examples of Chinese citizens who were either born in, or were legal citizens of, Canada – serving as reinforcement of the racist view that non-white citizens did not constitute ‘real’ Canadians.

The Star could also be counted on to report on the various struggles that immigrants and refugees to Canada have had to experience: housing discrimination; difficulties in finding employment that honored their dignity and professional backgrounds; emotional pains in adjusting to their new country; subjection to bigotry in their daily lives.

It can be counted on to demonstrate to Canadians the degree to which the nation’s economic, cultural, and political health is fuelled by the various waves of newcomers that enter each year, advocating for inclusive immigration policies and discouraging the scourge of xenophobia that encumbers the development of any dynamic and just society.

The Star could be counted on to counteract the post-9/11 climate of Islamophobia, by drawing our attention to the people that our nation failed – such as Maher Arar – while also featuring the accomplishments of members of Muslim communities who have offered thought-provoking, incisive responses to this discrimination.

It could be counted on to take on an advocacy role when it launched a brave inquiry into allegations indicating that some actions of the Toronto Police were motivated by racism. The inquiry discovered that police treated African Canadians harsher than whites. This report was long overdue, serving as a document that black communities would later use in their fight against racial profiling.

It could be counted on to remind us of the cruelty of human history. Recently, Royson James was sent to do a story in Ghana, exploring the history of the slave trade in order to mark the 200th anniversary of the end of one of the “most brutal and destructive institutions in history.” Gifted with a natural aptitude for compelling prose, James recounted his journey with twenty-one other Canadians – themselves descendants of the slave trade – who were determined to make sense of the excruciating struggles of their ancestors and to reconnect with their roots. And this journey, readers discovered, came with its own tremendous emotional toll.

The Star can be counted on to remind us of the continuing legacies of colonialism in our own country, tracking the struggles that exist of First Nations communities today: from issues of land claims and fishing rights, to issues of systemic poverty and daily discrimination. And, most recently, it could be counted on to shed light on the recent racist assaults on Asian fishermen in Ontario, which have consisted of angry local residents attacking anglers of Asian descent.

Finally, it can be counted to put Atkinson’s principles into practice, in a quiet rather than a loud way. Whether it’s through Fresh Air or Santa Claus Funds, or any of the employee-driven United Way campaigns, the newspaper can be counted to give back to the community it serves.

The Harmony Movement – on behalf of all justice-loving Canadians – would like to congratulate the Toronto Star for helping to forge the world that so many of us desire – for making our communities safer, kinder, and more inclusive of the differences which animate human lives. Because the Toronto Star has been involved in improving the lives of ordinary citizens for so long, this award can only be a small token of our appreciation.

In a world of newspapers with names like Ledger, Chronicle, or Tribune, our recipient tonight is most aptly named. We have always relied on the stars for direction, energy, light, and sense of place. There is perhaps no better descriptor for the virtues of this fine publication than its own namesake.

Gordon Cressy is a co-founder of Harmony Movement. A visionary and agent of change, Gordon has been building community at local, national and international levels for over forty years.

Michele Landsberg and Stephen Lewis

2006: Michele Landsberg and Stephen Lewis

Michele Landsberg is an award-winning Canadian writer, social activist and feminist who wrote a column for the Toronto Star newspaper. Stephen Henry Lewis is a Canadian politician, broadcaster and diplomat. He was the leader of the democratic socialist Ontario New Democratic Party for most of the 1970s.

Michele Landsberg and Stephen Lewis have been happily married for 48 years.

By Gerald Caplan

 This is a tough assignment for me to carry out properly. While Stephen and I have chummed around for the past half century, Michele and I have been friends for a mere 45 years. Can I do her equal justice after such a fleeting acquaintanceship?

At least I can say this with confidence about them both: They have demonstrated, as few others ever have, the capacity of conscience, commitment and compassion to make themselves heard in a world that more commonly genuflects to wealth and power. Our media routinely feature high profile people, some of them even couples-who have acquired personal riches, lucrative positions on corporate boards, and powerful government friends (perhaps purchased with timely political contributions?), often enough lobbying for policies and positions that will benefit them or their companies personally. In long lifetimes of public advocacy, no one can point to a single cause or a single policy that either Michele or Stephen has ever supported that would enrich either of them in any personal way, except of course the deep satisfaction of trying to make the world a more just, more egalitarian, more peaceful place.

The Harmony Movement was founded to combat all forms of discrimination that prevent citizens from becoming equal members of society, and it’s precisely their passionate dedication to egalitarianism that has driven both Michele and Stephen all their lives (which means, for these two very precocious individuals, probably from the moment they learned to speak). It was for them a matter of uncompromising principle that every human being was a moral equal. But they went further. Formal, theoretical equality wasn’t enough. Something approaching equality of condition, equality in practice, in daily life, was required to make the notion of equality more than easy rhetoric. For both, that’s what their democratic socialism has been about: translating fine words into meaningful deeds.

For Michele, as all the world knows, the most persistent focus of her egalitarian efforts has long been as an outspoken feminist, a term now often disdained even by the young women who have benefited so much from the women’s movement, of which she was a pioneer and leader both in Canada and the US. Because we all ignore history, many girls and young women in Canada today who have the entire world open to them are completely oblivious of the closed world constraining their grandmothers and mothers. Nor can they have the slightest sense of the raw courage it took to challenge the status quo and the formidable anger of those whom Michele was discomfiting every time she sat down at her keyboard or appeared on the radio. But from first to last, Michele was fearless, indomitable, unwavering. In the process, she became hugely popular, a voice other women turned to for inspiration and hope.

In those days, the entire female life cycle was a series of institutional and structural barriers that only the exceptional could hurdle. When Michele, Stephen and I were at the University of Toronto in the late 1950s, men had the usual athletic facilities; women had none. Men had the full use of a wonderful institution called Hart House, which included a gorgeous classical music room, a library, a quiet rea ding room stuffed with free magazines, a cafeteria, a debating forum where Stephen debated Senator Jack Kennedy shortly before he became president; women were banned from this building except by very occasional special dispensation of a committee of men. Yet men and women paid exactly the same tuition fee! Even at university, as in every other aspect of society at the time, women were consider unequal and treated accordingly. Michele rejected these humiliations in her own life then and fought against them day after day for the rest of her life. When you see the abundance of women in our law schools and medical faculties today, you realize that the fight for women’s rights has been one of the great revolutions of our times, thanks in considerable part to the unrelenting advocacy of Michele Landsberg. But when you see the forces of religious and political reaction attempting to turn back the clock and to re-impose male domination over the destiny of females, you just wish that Michele would grab her newspaper column back and lead the good fight again.

Of course Stephen too has been an activist and leader in the feminist cause. The family joke is that Michele over the decades pummeled him into accepting feminism. But if so, I think we can safely say she beat him with a feather. Today, it is universally agreed, Stephen stands as perhaps Canada’s single most respected citizen, a heroic figure to many both here and abroad, the acknowledged champion of those throughout the world who have no international voice. If that means undiplomatically criticizing irresponsible governments or even his own laggard UN colleagues, so be it the cause takes priority over starchy international protocol. Stephen has spent a lifetime battling on behalf of the oppressed, the persecuted, the outcast, the ignored, and the demeaned. Like Michele, that’s simply what his life has always been about. But what’s less recalled are the many decades in which his efforts were by no means appreciated or honored. A dangerous troublemaker, a reckless radical, a Castro in disguise, a foolish impractical idealist that’s the reputation you got if you were a progressive politician fighting for decent housing or safe workplaces or vulnerable children or visible minorities facing vicious discrimination. Stephen then was little different from Stephen now in his convictions, his ideas, his causes, but the powers-that-be were terrified of him. He was never permitted to fulfill his proper destiny in Canada, which proved to be a lucky break for the rest of the world.

I only hope Michele and Stephen aren’t getting this award on false pretenses. Of course they believe in a harmonious existence, in harmony between nations, in harmony among people of all kinds, however diverse. But the real world they’ve lived in, like many, has been anything but harmonious. So they chose, both of them, to fight every step of the way for the kind of better world they’ve both believed in all their lives. That’s the funny thing about harmony if you don’t fight passionately for it, there’s no chance of achieving it.

Of course by “fighting” I don’t mean physical fighting. I don’t mean guns. I don’t mean war. All their lives they’ve both battled against a succession of wretched wars imposed on us by cynical governments that glory in having other people, younger people, fight and die for their unjust causes. No, Michele and Stephen have fought using the only weapons they really believe in and have access to unassailable research and stunning eloquence. By words alone, they have taken on the corporate sector, responsible for so many of the world’s ills; the political establishment, with all its opportunism, cronyism, and conservatism; and any and all defenders of a status quo that entrenches injustice and inequality. By words alone, written or spoken, they have inspired countless others to pick up the torch and carry on the fight and fights that have consumed their lives. Honoring Michele and Stephen tonight with your Harmony Award is a fine tribute. But you can honor them even further. The greatest award you can give them tonight is to pledge, each and every one of you in this room, to dedicate your own life to the greatest cause of all making the world a better, more just place for every citizen in it.

Gerald Lewis (Gerry) Caplan, PhD is a Canadian academic, public policy analyst, commentator and political activist. He has had a varied career in academia, as a political organizer for the New Democratic Party, in advocacy around education, broadcasting and African affairs and as a commentator in various Canadian media.