Biographies of 2023 Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case Recipients

Marlene Catterall

Marlene Catterall

Marlene Catterall is a community activist and former politician, elected 4 times municipally and 5 times as Member of Parliament in Ottawa.

Throughout her life she pursued the goals of the Famous Five to open doors for women to participate fully In Canadian life including as decision makers in elected office. Her appointment as the first woman in Canada as Chief Government Whip was a step forward for all women.

Always attentive to the needs of the most disadvantaged, Marlene worked with local underprivileged women, setting up grocery programs, restaurant, and computer skills training for mothers and youth, sparking the dynamic of women helping women. When the computer training program was cut, she met with the employment minister and persuaded him to reinstate it.

She has represented Canada at numerous international meetings including the UN World Summit on Women.

Marlene is committed to issues being resolved by Parliament not by the Courts. Asked by the President of Treasury Board about her priorities, her reply was to end 20 years of court challenges by the Government about pay equity in the Public Service. Seeing two women heading the institutions that could make it work, she knew they would broker a deal for the ages between the largest Public Service Union and the Government.

Her tenacity and extensive knowledge of Parliamentary procedures resulted in unanimous approval for the installation of the Famous Five monument – which remains the first and only representation of women other than monarchs on Parliament Hill – beside the Senate they had fought to enter as persons.

Gemma Hickey

Gemma Hickey

Gemma Hickey is a multi-award-winning international author, activist, and intersectional feminist. Their advocacy has changed Canada's legal landscape to expand equality rights of cis and trans women and girls.

Their leadership helped legalize same-sex marriage in Canada in 2005, and their work in a 2017 legal challenge permitted the issuing of gender-neutral birth certificates in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 2017, Gemma became one of the first Canadians to receive a non-binary birth certificate and gender-neutral passport. This enabled them to be the first to travel with this documentation to different countries, paving the way for others.

While in Japan for the international debut of Just Be Gemma (Walsh Productions 2017), a film about their gender transformation, and a reading from their memoir Almost Feral (Breakwater Books 2019), Gemma's visit coincided with the launch of a same-sex marriage legal case against the Government of Japan. Through talks at the Canadian Embassy, University of Tokyo, and interviews with media outlets, they were still making news a year after their visit because people were coming out as non-binary. There was no word for non-binary in the Japanese language before.

Gemma has founded organizations such as the Pathways Foundation which supports survivors of religious institutional abuse, and co-founded ACTS Canada (Advocates for Clergy Trauma Survivors) to provide support nationwide.

They have been at the forefront of the battle to extend full legal equality and protections to Canadians of all genders and work every day to improve people's quality of life.

As a self-identified survivor of conversion therapy and clergy sexual abuse, Gemma exemplifies how personal tragedy can be a conduit for empathy and a tool for change.

Dr. Nafissa Ismail

Dr. Nafissa Ismail

Dr. Nafissa Ismail is a professor, researcher, and mentor at the University of Ottawa. She also heads the Neuroimmunology, Stress, and Endocrinology (NISE) Lab, where her students are exposed to a wide range of cutting-edge molecular/behavioural techniques.

A leader in the field of mental health, Dr. Ismail aims to advance research on women's health issues, an area which has largely been neglected. She wants to understand why women are twice as likely to suffer from depression then men, and studies the effects of birth control pills on women's brains. Her work shows how the use of oral contraceptives, especially during adolescence, causes structural and functional changes in the brain and could increase vulnerability to stress and the likelihood of these women developing depression.

She has chaired numerous administrative and grant review committees, established international partnerships, as well as engaged in several national and international initiatives.

Dr. Ismail was a co-lead of the Memory and Cognition and of the Mental Health groups of the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Institute and she is now the director of the LIFE Research Institute, where she leads a network of multidisciplinary researchers, and community and industrial partners to support Canadians to live long, to live well, and to live with voice and choice.

A member of the Global Young Academy, an international community of young scientists, she co-led the Women in Science Working Group for two years where she supported women in their scientific careers. She secured funds to organize workshops on leadership skills to further empower women scientists. By encouraging women and girls to work in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), she shows her continued commitment to gender equality around the world.

Lorin MacDonald, JD, LSM

Lorin MacDonald, JD, LSM

Lorin MacDonald is a renowned human rights lawyer, disability subject matter expert, and accessibility advocate. She is a relentless champion for women, particularly those living with disabilities.

Throughout a legal career fraught with systemic barriers, Lorin has thrived in her law practice and consultancy, delivering positive change impacting Canadians with disabilities. A landmark 2020 Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario decision ruled it discriminatory for restaurants to prevent people with disabilities from using their washrooms, resonating across Canada, and cementing Lorin's influence as a disability advocate. Her commentary with print and social media and at conferences stresses the necessity of disability in broader Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion conversations.

From 2017 to 2022, Lorin was a member of the Government of Ontario's AODA Health Care Standards Development Committee, providing recommendations for hospitals to improve services to people with disabilities. As the Committee's only human rights lawyer, Lorin emphasized intersectionality and the disadvantages marginalized women face in accessing health care. In 2023, she collaborated with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Canada's largest treatment centre, to strengthen communication accessibility protocols and provide clear masks for women with hearing loss receiving breast cancer treatment.

Lorin is an inspiring role model, mentoring women-identifying law students and lawyers with disabilities while advancing equity issues within the profession. For these efforts, the Law Society of Ontario bestowed upon her its highest honour, the Law Society Medal. Lorin is also a member of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame for her extraordinary contributions to enhancing the lives of Canadians living with disabilities.

Maria Wu

Maria Wu

Maria Wu's advocacy regarding social inequality sets her apart, particularly in the realm of healthcare accessibility.

Maria is the founder of the Maud Medical Clinic, a Calgary women's health centre which addresses gynecological health concerns. The clinic educates and builds awareness on health topics while supporting women to advocate for their own bodies. As she explains, if we can embolden women to speak openly about vaginal health, we can move closer toward equitable healthcare for all. The concept of MAUD was born of this idea.

Ms. Wu is also a partner in various prominent healthcare institutions such as Probity Medical Management, Alberta Pediatric Consultant Clinics, and Velocity Injury Medical Clinic in Calgary. Her entrepreneurial prowess and remarkable leadership abilities are demonstrated by her ability to establish aid, collaborate and manage successful ventures.

As the President of We Are Maud Foundation, Maria has pushed initiatives such as Period Poverty, Sex Positive Education and The Compassion Program, specifically targeting marginalized women and girls in Calgary, Alberta.

Maria's expertise has been offered to several organizations and communities, such as her role as Community Liaison for HPV Global Action with the mission to eliminate cervical cancer. She has empowered and mentored women who may not have had formal education in the medical field but are passionate about contributing to safe spaces for women by women. Her work has left an indelible mark on the path towards gender parity.

Maria's dedication to personal growth is evident in her continuous pursuit of becoming a better version of herself. She approaches every challenge with resilience, adaptability, and an unwavering focus on achieving equality for all.

Aditi Sivakumar

Aditi Sivakumar

Aditi Sivakumar is a medical student, philanthropist, and women's rights advocate. She created "My Empowerment Platform", a website offering a wide range of tools and information on gender-based violence which includes medical, legal and safety-planning resources. This digital portal is primarily designed for women and children facing violence.

Other initiatives include: "My Empowerment Packs", wellness kits and resource booklets distributed to homeless youth and individuals fleeing violence. Through her efforts, over $30,000 worth of items were provided to domestic violence shelters across Canada.

Aditi received the Diana Award, the most prestigious accolade a young person can receive for their social action work. She was the only Canadian recipient to receive the Legacy Award which celebrates the achievements of twenty young leaders, visionaries and role models from around the world, who have inspired and mobilized new generations to serve their communities.

She also developed a patient-centered handout on smoking cessation and identified free and low-cost options for them to use. The handout is available on the Nova Scotia Health Authority's website. In addition, Aditi developed an animated video on women's health, available in multiple languages. Her work provides an example of an innovative care model which could be used in any clinic.

Ms. Sivakumar is the youngest individual in the world to be appointed Board Vice Chair to the Partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Aditi has shown an incredible capacity to pair her medical training with advocacy and volunteer work. An inspiring, passionate, and empathetic individual, she no doubt has the potential to be an outstanding future world health leader.

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