Follow Us! Like Our Page!

Governor General’s Awards Recognize Five Canadian Women Marking the 84th Anniversary of the Persons Case

OTTAWA, Oct. 21, 2013 – The Honourable Dr. K. Kellie Leitch, Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women, is pleased to announce the names of five Canadian women being presented with a 2013 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. The awards honour those who have made outstanding contributions to the quality of life for women in Canada.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the Famous Five who successfully persevered in an effort to strengthen women’s rights in Canada,” said Minister Leitch. “Today, we honour the generations of women who have followed in their footsteps to bring equality to women and girls.”

This year’s recipients are:

  • Constance Backhouse – Ottawa, Ontario
  • Nahanni Fontaine – Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Susan Shiner – St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Julie Lalonde – Ottawa, Ontario (Youth Recipient)
  • Cherry Smiley – Vancouver, British Columbia (Youth Recipient)

Persons Day is celebrated annually during Women’s History Month, and marks a pivotal moment in Canadian history when, on October 18, 1929, five Canadian women – Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, and Nellie McClung – fought and won the right for women to be legally recognized as ‘persons’ inCanada.

The Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case were created in 1979 to mark the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Persons Case. Each year, five recipients are chosen from across Canada to receive the award. This year marks the 34th year of the awards, which will be presented at Rideau Hall on Tuesday, October 29, 2013.




Constance Backhouse

Constance Backhouse is not only a brilliant scholar, she is an activist, teacher, mentor, and leader. Her unshakeable commitment to gender equality and social justice has helped to make Canada a better place for women and girls. AsCanada’s pre-eminent feminist legal historian, Professor Backhouse focuses her scholarly work on telling stories of women and other oppressed groups, exposing inequalities, promoting understanding and facilitating change. As a speaker at countless Persons Day events, she has brought to life the “Famous Five” women behind the success of the Persons Case. Professor Backhouse has achieved the highest levels of academic success, as exemplified by the many prestigious awards she has received. Indeed, she may be the first explicitly feminist scholar in Canada to receive this kind and level of recognition for her scholarship. In this respect, her achievements are ground-breaking, advancing equality for women and bringing positive recognition of women’s position in academia. She has helped establish and served in a large number of women’s organizations and projects, including the Women’s Education and Research Foundation, (co-founder), the Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), the London Battered Women’s Advocacy Clinic, and the Feminist History Society (co-founder). A noted author, Professor Backhouse has worked to strengthen laws addressing violence against women, and helped generations of students to understand the roots of discrimination on the basis of race, gender and inequality. Constance Backhouse lives in Ottawa.

Nahanni Fontaine

Nahanni Fontaine is the Special Advisor on Aboriginal Women’s Issues for the Aboriginal Issues Committee of Cabinet of Manitoba, with particular focus on Missing & Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls.  Ms. Fontaine has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Winnipeg in Environmental Studies and International Development, and a Masters of Arts degree in Native Studies, Women’s Studies and Critical Theory from the University of Manitoba. Ms. Fontaine is respected across Canada for advocating for action on missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. As head of Manitoba’s Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls Strategy, she spearheaded several campaigns, including four annual Wiping Away the Tears gatherings for families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. Her innovative approach has helped build greater awareness about violence against Aboriginal women. In 2013, Ms. Fontaine organized the third National Aboriginal Women’s Summit, which included the first-ever national healing and honour ceremony for the families. Ms. Fontaine campaigns tirelessly to bring to light the stories of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. For two decades, she has attended every rally, vigil and funeral. Ms. Fontaine has built relationships between the families, government and policing agencies. She is tremendously effective at the grassroots level, supporting women with housing, employment, clothing, food, transportation, baby supplies, etc. Ms. Fontaine is Ojibway from Sagkeeng First Nation and lives in Winnipeg.

Susan Kathryn Shiner

As a teenager in the 1960s, Susan became aware of incidents of inequality and has worked for social change ever since. In 1972, Susan moved from Ontario to Newfoundland and Labrador to teach school. Since 1985, she has been involved with the St. John’s Status of Women Council and the St. John’s Women’s Centre, serving as a board and committee member. From 1987-2000, while she was the Children’s Services Counsellor at Iris Kirby House, a St. John’s shelter, she developed innovative programs for child witnesses of violence. Since 2000, she has been the Family Services Co-ordinator at Daybreak Parent Child Centre, where discussions of equality are daily topics as she offers support, advocacy and counselling to those involved in Daybreak’s programs. In 1991, Susan received the YMCA Canadian Peace Medal for her work to create more peaceful homes and communities as a part of creating a more peaceful world. In 2001, she received the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for her dedicated service and for highlighting women’s inequality as a root cause of violence against women. Susan has been an active campaigner for political candidates whose platforms address issues of inequality. She has always been involved in the unions in her workplaces and, presently, is on provincial and national committees of CUPE. Susan and her partner, Rick Page, are the parents of Claire and Ian Page-Shiner.

Julie Lalonde (Youth Recipient)

Julie Lalonde has made a real difference in improving the lives of women and girls through her work to end sexual assault and sexual harassment. She is a graduate student at Carleton University, where she studies the impact of poverty and isolation on elderly women. Ms. Lalonde co-chaired the Miss G Project for Equity in Education (Ottawachapter), successfully lobbying for a new curriculum on gender equality for Ontario high schools. As a young professional, she developed and manages “Draw the Line,” the Province of Ontario’s anti-sexual violence public education campaign. She has also worked as project manager and as a volunteer with the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA). She founded the first Canadian chapter of Hollaback!, an innovative new online tool for ending sexual harassment. For the past seven years, she has been an active volunteer with the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa. She hosts a weekly feminist radio program on Ottawa-based community radio stationCHUO. Shortlisted for the 2009 YWCA Women of Distinction Award and winner of the 2011 Femmy Award for strengthening women’s equality in the National Capital Region, Ms. Lalonde is an extraordinary franco-Ontarian. Her dedication exemplifies how young Canadians can be outstanding leaders in making their own communities safer and more equitable places for women and men. Julie Lalonde lives in Ottawa.

Cherry Smiley (Youth Recipient)

Cherry Smiley is a dedicated young woman, deeply committed to strengthening safety and social justice for women and girls. From the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) and Dine’ (Navajo) nations, Cherry is an emerging leader among Aboriginal women in Canada. She is an internationally recognized speaker on gender equality issues, presenting at key gatherings around the world. Her determination to create awareness about violence against Aboriginal women and girls is apparent in her many volunteer commitments, as well as in her ability to educate through art. Since 2008, Ms. Smiley has been involved with Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, where she provides support, information, and advocacy to women and girls who have experienced male violence. From 2008 to 2011, she volunteered with the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network. In 2012, she co-facilitated the Sisterwork program at the Urban Native Youth Association, engaging young Aboriginal women and girls in discussing violence, creating art and giving presentations to local communities. Ms. Smiley is in the Masters of Fine Arts Program at Simon Fraser University, where she was awarded the inaugural Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship (Masters). She co-founded Indigenous Women against the Sex Industry, a volunteer group that works to educate the public about prostitution as an expression of colonialism and male violence and that works to abolish prostitution through progressive social policy. Cherry Smiley lives on Coast Salish territories in Vancouver.

For further information:

For media inquiries only:
Barbara Mottram
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of Labour and
Minister of Status of Women

For all other inquiries, contact:
Nanci-Jean Waugh
Director General, Communications
and Public Affairs
Status of Women Canada

NationTalk Partners & Sponsors Learn More