Hillman Canada Prize for Democracy and Social Justice
BC Civil Liberties Asscocation
Harsha Walia, Executive Director; Josh Paterson, former Executive Director; Grace Pastine, Litigation Director; Iman Baobeid, Communications and Outreach Manager
The unrelenting fight by Canadians to protect and extend civil liberties and human rights in this country is not only the story of remarkable individuals. It is also the story of remarkable organizations that have contributed so much to this historic challenge.
We are thrilled to honour one such organization — the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association — as the first recipient of the new Hillman Canada Prize for Democracy and Social Justice.
The legacy of the BCCLA is enormous. Even though many Canadians may not be aware of it, their lives and their liberties have been shaped and strengthened by the work of this organization.
The BCCLA was established in 1962 and is the oldest and most active civil liberties group in Canada. Its mandate is to promote, defend and extend civil liberties and human rights across Canada — with a view not only to individual liberty, but also to the kind of social balancing that defines Canada’s approach to human rights.
Under the leadership of Josh Paterson, and now Harsha Walia, the BCCLA has repeatedly proven its commitment to just causes and has made huge gains in the area of human rights.
Its roster of successful legal cases is a who’s-who of defining stories in Canada’s recent political and social history:
- Winning the right to medically assisted death,
- Striking down Canada’s cruel solitary confinement laws,
- Challenging discriminatory police street checks.
The BCCLA has taken on the issues of mandatory minimum sentences, the no-fly list, the plight of sex workers and the homeless in the downtown East Side of Vancouver, access to medical marijuana and safe consumption sites, and the protection of humanitarian workers and their families from excessive human smuggling laws.
It has challenged coercive police interrogation tactics and has intervened in the Braidwood inquiry into Robert Dziekanski who was tasered by the RCMP at Vancouver’s airport.
The BCCLA has defended the RCMP’s right to unionize, and public sector workers’ right to strike and picket, and has repeatedly stood up for the right to free expression by journalists and others.
The BCCLA has gone to bat for those caught in the national security nets of Canada and other countries — including Hassan Diab, Omar Khadr, and Maher Arar.
Is there any corner of our civil liberties here in Canada that hasn’t been strengthened by the dedication of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association? The answer is ‘no.’
We cannot think of any organization that has had more positive impact on our human rights in Canada in the last ten years — and we are thrilled to honor the BCCLA with the first Hillman Canada Prize for Democracy and Social Justice.
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Harsha Walia is the Executive Director of the BCCLA. A graduate of the Allard School of Law at UBC, she is a long-time advocate for immigrant and refugee rights, Indigenous rights, women’s rights, and equality rights. Her advocacy work has resulted in significant transformation in government policies at the municipal, provincial, federal, and international level. She is also the award-winning author of Undoing Border Imperialism, co-author of Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration as well as Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and active in social movements including No One Is Illegal and Feb 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee.
Josh Paterson joined the Law Foundation of British Columbia as Executive Director in September 2019, where he and his team work to support and enhance access to justice across BC. Before joining the Law Foundation, Josh was the executive director of the BCCLA for seven years, leading legal challenges and law reform work which created groundbreaking change in Canadian law. During that time, the BCCLA succeeded in ending the prohibition on medical assistance in dying, won a historic victory declaring prolonged solitary confinement to be unconstitutional and helped put an end to new laws allowing for citizenship revocation and second class citizenship in Canada. Josh’s legal practice has included constitutional law, First Nations law, labour and human rights law, and environmental law, working at a number of different legal organizations and a litigation firm. Josh also taught as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia for six years. He holds law and master’s degrees from the University of Toronto, and clerked at Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice.
Grace Pastine is a lawyer and the Litigation Director for the BCCLA. Grace directs the organization’s nationwide legal program. She has represented the organization on a broad range of civil liberties issues, including police accountability, prisoner’s rights and patient’s rights. Grace was a member of the plaintiff’s trial team in Carter vs. Canada, the case that decriminalized physician-assisted dying in Canada. She is a frequent speaker on a variety of civil liberties topics and has taught law school courses as an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria.
Iman Baobeid is a Yemeni artist, storyteller, and communications specialist. She joined the BCCLA in 2017 and is currently the Communications and Outreach Manager. Iman holds a Master of Arts in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Law, and Society from the University of British Columbia. Iman’s art tackles mid and post-conflict state transformation from intersectional feminist and postcolonial lenses – particularly situated in Yemen. Her work is embedded in the archives – living, oral, and written – as she seeks to unpack the impact of successive wars in Yemen on its people. Her art brings to life the stories of her ancestors and community.