Access, Equity & Human Rights Awards

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Constance E. Hamilton Award

In 1979 Toronto City Council established this award, named after its first woman member, Constance E. Hamilton, who was elected in 1920.

The award commemorates the Privy Council decision of 1929, which requires the federal government to recognize women as "persons" according to the terms of the Constitution Act, 1867 and recognizes Persons Day, October 18, the date that the judgement was handed down.

To qualify, a recipient must be a resident of Toronto whose actions have had a significant impact on securing equitable treatment for women in Toronto, either socially, economically or culturally.

The women members of Toronto City Council select the recipient(s) of the Constance E. Hamilton Award.

Constance Easton Hamilton was a remarkable woman who publicly championed many cuases.

Born in Yorkshire, England in 1862, she migrated with her family to Canada in 1888.

A strong fighter for women's suffrage, she became President of the Equal Franchise League of Toronto, and frequently represented Canadian suffragists in other countries. When women secured the franchise and were eligible to run for municipal office, she became the first woman elected to City of Toronto Council.

After two years serving in office, she retired from politics to continue her campaign for the rights for women and all underprivileged people.

The "Persons" Case

A Supreme Court of Canada ruling in April 1928, held that the term "qualified person" did not include women. Five women petitioners from Alberta asked the Government of Canada to allow an appeal of the judgement to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom, which was then the highest court of appeal on questions related to Canadian law. The government agreed and the Committee heard the appeal.

On October 18, 1929, the Judicial Committee unanimously reversed the judgement of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Privy Council decision to declare women "persons" under section 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867 not only enabled women to be appointed senators but also reinforced the right of women in Canada to participate in all aspects of public life.

Women and men who owned property gained the right to vote for mayor and members of City Council in 1884, but until 1919, laws barred them from holding elected municipal office. Toronto's first woman member of City Council was suffragist Constance E. Hamilton, who was elected in 1920. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Persons Case, Toronto City Council established the Constance E. Hamilton Award in 1979.

The Inaugural Constance E. Hamilton Award Selection Committee, 1979:

  • Alderman Susan Fish
  • Alderman Janet Howard
  • Alderman Anne Johnston
  • Alderman June Rowlands

Recipients of the Constance E. Hamilton award have made a significant contribution to securing the equitable treatment for women in Toronto.

2016 Constance E. Hamilton Award recipient

Paola Gomez

Paola Gomez is a trained human rights lawyer, community organizer, public speaker, artist facilitator, writer and dreamer. A member of PEN Canada’s Writers in Exile, Paola is involved in causes such as ending violence against women and forced migration, as well as community engagement.

Paola is the co-founder and director of Sick Muse Art Projects. In this role, she has developed an innovative way of integrating conversations about identity, inclusion and community engagement into community art programs. She facilitates creative writing workshops for women who are survivors of sexual violence and promotes reconciliation and acceptance through arts for Colombians affected by years of armed conflict in the region. She also created a micro-grant program in Colombia which supports community art programs in rural areas of the country.

Paola was awarded the 2008 Toronto Community Foundation Vital People grant in recognition of her exceptional community initiatives. The Canadian Centre of Victims of Torture (CCVT) awarded Paola with the Amina Malko Award for her work in supporting refugee women in Canada.

Paola writes poetry, essays and short stories. As a community leader, researcher and emerging curator, she has contributed to the access and visibility of other Latin American artists in the Toronto art scene. Paola has co-curated the Art of Non-Violence Collective art exhibits, 'For Love to Frida and Other Women' and 'Mientras Las Hojas Caen'.

2015 Recipients Hamilton Award

Andrea SesumAndrea Sesum

Andrea Sesum had created a first ever equity association for Paralegal Women-Women's Paralegal Association of Ontario.  She had created networking, mentorship, education activities for women Paralegals. Andrea had also usefully submitted issues of importance before the Legislative Assembly, Attorney General, Law Society of Upper Canada. Women's Paralegal Association Ontario had made wonderful stride in the industry to better the paralegal women in the profession. Andrea Sesum is wonderful leader and example of a strong giving and an innovative leader.

2014 Recipients Hamilton Award

Dr. Rosemary MoodieDr. Rosemary Moodie

Rosemary Gay Moodie is a dedicated volunteer, philanthropist, advocate and role model for young girls and women who seeks to improve the lives of women at grass root levels. She is highly recognized for her contributions to the medical community during her time at the Hospital for Sick Children, but also in her paediatric clinic located in one of Toronto's priority neighbourhoods. Rosemary continues to mentor young African-Canadian students and many young physicians-in-the-making.

The reach of her volunteerism is vast. Rosemary's contributions range from fostering the health of the community, supporting early childhood education in developing nations and helping to break the cycle of poverty. Her work touches the lives of single, low income Aboriginal women in Canada fleeing violence and extends to children in Jamaica and Haiti. She has contributed to and continues to be involved with many boards including: Food for the Poor Canada, Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education Canada, Scotiabank Foundation and St. Joseph Health Centre in Toronto. 

As president and board chair of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) Toronto for three years, Rosemary worked to expand the organization's affordable and supportive housing options for young women living with mental health and addiction issues, as well as low income single women and those fleeing domestic violence. She has nurtured young women's leadership on the Board of Directors and continues to empower young women by setting an example of a strong, inspiring female visionary. 

In 2012, she was an International Women's Day honouree and was recognized by the Hospital for Sick Children for 25 years of outstanding service. Rosemary was the recipient of the Ontario Medical Association's Glenn Sawyer Service Award and the Harry Jerome Health Sciences Award. 

Anne Rochon FordAnne Rochon Ford

Anne Rochon Ford has been a quiet, steady and forceful champion for women's health, both in Toronto and across Canada. Anne is currently the Executive Director of the Canadian Women's Health Network, and a Research Associate with the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health at York University. She has a long history of advocacy and activism in support of women's health in Toronto. As a founding member of Willow Breast Cancer Support and Resources Services (1994), Women and Health Protection (1997), the Toronto Women's Health Network (1981), the Ontario Women's Health Network (1997), and DES Action Toronto (1984), Anne has shown an incredible commitment and vision for an inclusive women's health agenda. 

As a writer, Ms. Ford has edited and authored a number of important publications including The Push to Prescribe: Women and Canadian Drug Policy (2009), and Access to Midwifery: Reflections on the Ontario Equity Committee Experience, in Reconceiving Midwifery (2004). For the DisAbled Women’s Network of Ontario, she wrote a booklet for health care professionals about making their practices more accessible to women with disabilities (1993). And on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the admission of women into the University of Toronto, the UofT Press published Anne’s book, A Path Not Strewn with Roses: 100 Years of Women at UofT (1984).

In both her professional and volunteer lives, Anne has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to ensuring that women are not further harmed by environmental chemicals, a situation that can have both serious health effects and, sometimes, a life-long impact. She has also worked tirelessly to help establish strong women's reproductive health programs and choices, such as the midwifery program now in place across Ontario. In addition to her numerous publications and voluntary leadership efforts within the women's health movement in Toronto, Anne has also served several government appointments, including on the Ontario Advisory Council on Women's Issues (1986-1988) and the Interim Regulatory Council on Midwifery (1991-1992). 

She continues to champion women's health in her current roles with the National Network on Environments and Women's Health and the Canadian Women's Health Network, all while researching and profiling important groundbreaking research on the impact of toxins in the workplace, environmental causes of cancer and the influence of alcohol on young women. Her most recent work involves studying the environment that nail salon staff work in and the impact that has on their health. Anne's work continues to raise awareness and understanding as well as demanding strong policy responses from various levels of government.

Valerie MahValerie Mah

Valerie Mah believes no child should go hungry, and throughout her accomplished teaching career, she worked to establish food programs for kids and supports for moms and families. She grew up working in her family's restaurant in Brockville, Ontario, where her commitment to food and nutrition started early. 

Valerie attended Toronto Teachers’ College and for 17 years she was a Special Ed teacher working with emotionally disturbed children. She earned a B.A., B.Ed and M.Ed. from the University of Toronto – all taken as a part time student during summers and evenings. She was a vice principal for six years at Withrow Public School in Riverdale and ended her career in education as the principal for nine years at Bruce Public School in South Riverdale. Her background in the restaurant industry helped her to establish a hot lunch program and pilot a salad bar for her students. 

As principal at Bruce Public School, she helped lead the school from possible closure to creating the model for Ontario's full-day kindergarten in partnership with WoodGreen and the Atkinson Foundation. This program gained international recognition for its seamless curriculum, childcare in the school classrooms and Early Childhood Educators in kindergarten classes. 

In 1964, Valerie was a founder of the Mon Sheong Foundation; in 1994, she helped found the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care, both providing high-quality and culturally-appropriate services for Asian seniors. 

She is vice president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of East Toronto, and was instrumental in helping to build the 40' x 50' archway at Broadview and Gerrard Street East. She also represents the Chinese community on the local Community/Police Liaison Committee for 55 Division and is a member of the Chinese Community Consultative Committee for the Toronto Police Service. 

Since retiring from education in 2003, Valerie has run for federal parliament and served on many boards, including Canadian Feed the Children, Woodgreen Community Services, Mon Sheong and the Yee Hong Community Wellness Foundation. 

Currently, Valerie is the chair of the Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTO) Charitable Foundation, which represents 70,000 retirees. Starting in 2011, she led the drive to establish an endowed chair in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Toronto, raising $3 million on their behalf. 

A popular MC, she is given the honour of hosting many banquets and important occasions in the Chinese Community in Toronto. Her favourite title remains 'Mah hou cheung' – Principal Mah – which is how she is known in the Toronto Chinese community.

2013 Constance Hamilton Award recipient

Lynda Kosowan

Lynda KosowanSince 1986, Lynda Kosowan has dedicated her professional career to the Scarborough Women’s Centre, as Executive Director. The Scarborough Women's Centre concentrates on stopping the cycle of violence and helping women from all walks of life and personal situations achieve their potential. She has previously received the Scarborough Civic Recognition Certificate in 1999 and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International Foundation in 2007.

One of her most successful projects includes working with the TTC surface route study, conducted in partnership with City of Scarborough, TTC, Metro Police, and METRAC, resulting in the implementation of recommendations to improve safety for women on public transit, including the Request Stop program and re-design of bus shelters.

Some of the programs Lynda has developed though the Women’s centre include:

  • One-on-one counselling to support women who are dealing with abuse, making plans to leave abuse, or recovering from abuse and violence
  • Mentoring programs to help women who are in transition in their lives
  • Educational programs to help women become independent through life skills with topics such as healthy relationships, financial planning, dealing with anger, building self esteem and family law
  • A program specifically designed to help women with disabilities, who are facing abuse, poverty and/or isolation
  • A young women’s outreach program dedicated to helping young women dream of a brighter future for themselves, free of violence

Lynda is also the recipient of a Civic Recognition Certificate for her work with the City’s Special Committee on Crime Prevention in 1997. The Scarborough Women's Centre is a 2003 recipient of the Mayor’s Community Safety Award, recognizing the Centre's work with abused women and their children.

Previous Constance E. Hamilton Award recipients

Award recipient Year
Dr. Rosemary Moodie, Anne Rochon Ford, Valerie Mah 2014
Lynda Kosowan 2013
Carolyn Egan and Ceta Ramkhalawansingh 2012
Liliana Angarita 2011
Cindy Cowan, Tam Goossen and Tonika Morgan 2010
Ann Buller and SonjaGreckol 2009
Deena Ladd and Heather McGregor 2008
June Larkin, Helen Liu and Beverley Wybrow 2007
Parvathy Kanthasamy, Marcie Ponte and Virginia Rock 2006
Vivien Green and Marilda Tselepis 2005
Zanana Akande, Nora Currie and Loly Rico 2004
Dr. Bonnie Burstow, Filomena Carvalho and Margaret Murray 2003
Mubarka Alam, Ekua Asabea Blair and Raquel Amarna Moscote 2002
Sheila Hambleton, Kowser Omer-Hashi and Eslin Payne 2001
Rose Cunha, Raheel Raza and Jean Small 2000
Joan Grant-Cummings, Marion Lynn and Jane Pepino 1999
Gerda Kaegi, Connie Guberman and Susan D'Oliveira 1998
Nora Shankar, Cherie MacDonald and Bea Levis 1997
Louise Binderand Gerda Wekerle 1996
Reggie Modlich 1995
Cornelia Soberano 1994
Noemi Garcia, Barbara Kilbourn and Ina Andre and Joan Clayton 1993
Kay Parsons and Brigitte Witkowski 1992
Liz Stimpson, Anne Mason Apps and Josephine Grey 1991
Gertrude MacDougall, Antonia Maximo and Evelyn McKee 1990
Beverly Hine and Joanne Doucette 1989
No award 1988
Karen Ciupka, Joy Reid and Carmencita Hernandez 1987
Akua Benjamin, Frieda Forman and Dorothy Rogers 1986
Judith Ramirez 1985
Kay Gardner 1984
Elizabeth Greaves 1983
Mary O'Brien 1982
Doris Anderson 1981
Vicki Trerise 1980