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Law Society announces 2016 Human Rights Award honorees

November 24, 2016

Toronto, ON - November 24, 2016 - The governing body of Ontario's legal professions is pleased to announce that the 2016 Human Rights Award will be granted to two outstanding recipients - Dr. Cindy Blackstock and Waleed Abu al-Khair.

The special presentation will be held in Toronto on February 22, 2017.

Established in 2013, the award recognizes outstanding contributions to the advancement of human rights and/or the promotion of the rule of law provincially, nationally or internationally. It is granted biennially to individuals for their devotion to these principles over a long term, or for a single, outstanding act of service. The inaugural Human Rights Award was presented to The Honourable Irwin Cotler in 2015.     

“Dr. Blackstock has spent her career advocating for justice and promoting the rights of First Nations children and youth in this country.  Mr. al-Khair has made extraordinary contributions to the promotion of democracy and the rule of law in Saudi Arabia - which have come at significant personal cost. The Law Society is proud to honour these two exceptional human rights advocates,” says Law Society Treasurer Paul Schabas.

“The Law Society's Human Rights Monitoring Group monitors human rights violations that target members of the legal profession and the judiciary as a result of their work. As chair of the group, I am pleased to see such exceptional individuals recognized for their tireless efforts to defend human rights,” added Bencher, Teresa Donnelly.

Dr. Cindy Blackstock is a highly respected and outstanding advocate for First Nations children and youth in Canada working to address systemic discrimination in the child welfare system. For more than 25 years, she has engaged in and promoted public education and key research on the issue. She is most well-known for her leadership in bringing a human rights complaint against the federal government, resulting in a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's landmark ruling in which the Tribunal found that the Government of Canada “was guilty of systemic discrimination by underfunding child welfare for First Nations children on reserve.” Dr. Blackstock is a member of the Gitksan First Nation of British Columbia. She is the Executive Director of First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada, and Associate Professor and Director of FNCARES (First Nations Children's Action Research and Education Service) at the University of Alberta. She was recently appointed a Professor with the School of Social Work at McGill University. Among her many awards, she was recognized by the Nobel Women's Initiative in 2013.

Waleed Abu al-Khair is a prominent human rights lawyer and activist in Saudi Arabia and the founder of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. He has worked tirelessly to defend human rights and the rule of law for all - in the face of extreme adversity and at the cost of his own freedom.

In 2014, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison and given a 15 year travel ban and fine of 200,000 Saudi Arabian riyal as punishment for his human rights activities. The activities included holding discussions about human rights in his home, defending those who have been punished for speaking out, and signing a letter that criticized authorities for imprisoning a group of activists who had peacefully advocated for democratic reform.

Details about the award presentation will be available in the New Year.

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For more information, please contact Susan Tonkin, Communications Advisor - Media Relations, at 416-947-7605 or  

The Law Society of Upper Canada
Osgoode Hall, 130 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario, M5H 2N6

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