People across Ontario are making important contributions to advance human rights and equity, many of which go unacknowledged. Each of our collective successes have started with a single step, by someone who had an idea for how to make Ontario a better place to live. And each collective success in the future will also rely on individual vision, advocacy and imagination.
The Daniel G. Hill Awards will help to showcase how the work of people across Ontario is forever altering the human rights landscape in a positive way. 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 we have all worked to follow and that still resonates today.
The awards were given in three categories:
- Young Leaders, awarded to a person under age 30 for their outstanding contribution to advancing human rights in Ontario
- Distinguished Service, awarded for outstanding contribution to advancing human rights
- Lifetime Achievement, awarded to an individual for significant contributions over their lifetime to advance human rights.
The OHRC received dozens of nominations, and choosing recipients was a very challenging process since 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 final decision was made by the OHRC Commissioners.
Meet the award recipients
Young Leaders: Autumn Peltier
Autumn Peltier is Anishinaabe-kwe, 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. She is the Chief Water Commissioner for Anishinabek Nation in Ontario, where she represents 39 First Nations and is responsible for relaying community concerns to the Anishinabek Council.
Autumn’s ability to tenderly extract a promise from Prime Minister Trudeau at age 12 – to care for the water – is a legacy that will inspire people for a long time.
Autumn leads by example – and speaks truth to power. She has campaigned for water protection around the world and spoken at the World Economic Forum in Geneva and the United Nations, where she urged the global delegates to respect the sacredness and importance of clean water. At home, her focus is on boil water advisories and lack of clean drinking water in First Nations communities in Ontario and across Canada.
Autumn also created a short documentary, “The Water Walker,” which was released in March on Crave Canada.
She is one of the leading youth changers in the world today, and is recognized by organizations and global platforms for her perseverance. Young people – and people of all ages – are engaged and inspired by her commitment to working with communities – collaborating, listening, and letting people have a say while making a critical connection between the environment and human rights.
Distinguished Service: Rabia Khedr
Rabia Khedr has worked for over 30 years to advance disability rights, through her own experience and bringing forward the voices of marginalized people, people of colour, women, and people with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities. Her accomplishments range from serving as a former Commissioner at the OHRC, to serving on national disability advisory groups, to co-chairing the Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force.
She co-founded the Race and Disability Canada network to advocate for racialized individuals with disabilities, established DEEN Support Services to ensure culturally and spiritually relevant services for individuals with disabilities, and is currently the National Director of Disability Without Poverty, an organization that is working to ensure people with disabilities have the supports necessary to avoid poverty and to take part in every aspect of society.
Rabia consistently breaks barriers and changes perceptions with her vast knowledge and experience working with people with disabilities, racialized women, seniors, youth, and diverse communities. She is a tireless community organizer who advocates for disability justice causes at all political levels.
Rabia has served with distinction, and continues to reimagine ways one person can be the start of something big in advancing human rights.
Lifetime Achievement: Kim (Brooks) Bernhardt
Kim (Brooks) Bernhardt began her human rights legacy at the genesis of the OHRC. Kim accompanied her parents to meetings where key citizens like Louis Fine and Dr. Hill would meet to strategize for lobbying the government to create the Commission.
One evening, feeling that she had been “dragged” to one too many meetings, a defiant Kim informed her parents that she would not go along to another “stupid” meeting. At that stupid meeting was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She still regrets that decision. Later, Kim worked with Daniel G. Hill as a summer student and intern in the 1970s and served as a human rights officer from 1978 to 1984.
After being called to the bar in 1993, Kim worked in human rights and equity with the Ontario Nurses Association, and was the first person of colour to serve as a research officer. She was instrumental in implementing a strategic plan for anti-racism organizational change at the Ontario Nurses Association, with priorities and timeframes for promoting and training members-of-colour and establishing a system to advance human rights cases, which is still in place today.
Kim also played a significant role in the Northwestern Hospital settlement in 1994, which was the first extensive Commission settlement requiring anti-racism organizational change. As well, Kim has extensively promoted employment equity, through volunteer work with the Alliance for Employment Equity and the Women's Coalition for Employment Equity, just to name two of the many organizations she has been involved with.
Through the Association of Human Rights Lawyers, Kim played a pivotal role in the 2008 amendments to the Human Rights Code, and in advocating for the OHRC to retain a proactive role in human rights in Ontario.
Kim 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 our province. Her long list of contributions and accomplishments say strongly that she is a dedicated leader here in Ontario and beyond Canada’s borders.
Lifetime Achievement: David Lepofsky
David Lepofsky, a lawyer who is blind, has spent much of his career supporting Ontarians with disabilities, and is recognized across Canada as a disability/accessibility advocate.
A member of the Ontario Bar since 1981, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law since 1991, David has tackled disability issues with a unique combination of creativity and tenacity. As a lawyer with the Ontario Public Service, he served in civil and constitutional law, and in criminal law where he led appeals up to the Supreme Court of Canada. Throughout this time, he was a staunch advocate for people with disabilities.
The list of David’s accomplishments is long. He 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. David also played a key advocacy role in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) becoming law in June 2005.
As the chair of the AODA Alliance, David has continued to hold the government to account on fulfilling the AODA’s promise. And his work as a member of the AODA Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education Standards Development Committee has the potential to benefit students for generations to come.
David is a world-renowned lecturer, author and advocate. His work has been marked by the bestowal of the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, honorary doctorates from Queens, the University of Western Ontario and Brock University, and many other awards for his tireless work, which continues to change the landscape for people with disabilities in Ontario.