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Human Rights Commission Announce 2023 Human Rights Award Nominees

by ahnationtalk on November 29, 202339 Views

November 29, 2023

The following is being distributed at the request of the Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador:

Today, the Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the short-listed nominees for the 2023 Human Rights Awards. The annual awards recognize individuals who have made and/or continue to make meaningful contributions to advancing and furthering human rights in the province.

The Human Rights Commission does not nominate people. Instead, nominations come from people in the community who see the value in the great work individuals are doing.

The winner of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Award will receive an original painting by Grenfell Visual Arts student, Grace Prince. Biographies of the short-listed nominees and artist can be found in the backgrounder below.

The 2023 Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Award and Human Rights Champion recipients will be announced at a virtual ceremony at Government House on Thursday, December 7 via zoom at 2:30 p.m. The timing of the presentation coincides with International Human Rights Day.

To request a link to the ceremony, please email Hilary Hennessey at


Learn more
For more information on the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission, please visit

You can also follow us on Twitter & Instagram @nlhumanrights


Biographies of the 2023 Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Award Nominees

Courtney Clarke (she/her) is from Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove (PHMC) and currently lives in Mount Pearl. She has been actively involved in the province’s community sector for most of her life. Whether it’s her work in violence prevention, gender parity in politics, accessibility, or economic well-being, Courtney brings an intersectional, trauma-informed approach to the work that she does.

In her early twenties, she was a Project Manager of an entrepreneurial bootcamp for veterans called Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur with Prince’s Charities Canada, through Enactus Memorial, and spent time volunteering on local arts, heritage and museum committees with her father in her hometown.

When COVID-19 began and before NL had a provincial domestic abuse hotline, Chairing Violence Prevention Avalon East (VPAE), the organization launched Unsafe at Home; a domestic abuse support platform supporting 100+ crisis calls from individuals isolated with abusers. They then partnered with Spirit Horse NL to provide free equestrian-based counselling to 500+ survivors, called Stable & Safe. A survivor of gender-based violence, herself, Courtney established the Jane Doe Graduate Award in Anti-Violence Research at Memorial University to support local researchers.

Chairing Equal Voice NL, Courtney helps women and gender diverse individuals get elected to all levels and parties of government. Through this role, she also sits on the NL Premier’s Roundtable for Gender Equity. In January 2022, she helped Equal Voice co-author a study on sexual harassment in Canada’s legislative Provincial & Federal Assemblies for the Justice of Canada and looks for any opportunity to advance gender parity in the system.

Re-elected for a second term as a Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union (NLCU), Courtney represents the financial interests of 20,000+ members. Also passionate about accessibility, Courtney was able to fundraise over $1-million dollars towards accessibility advancements across all regions of NL, between 2019 and 2021. In January 2023, Courtney was appointed to the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dome Lombeida (they/them) is a queer migrant settler from Guayaquil, Ecuador who first came into St. John’s in 2017 as an international student and since has worked with different Refugee, Migrant and Social Justice Organizations. They hold a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geography and have experience with anti-colonial and feminist science practices. Dome actively volunteers and works closely with 2SLGBTQIA+ community like their research work with Quadrangle NL in the barriers to healthcare and their work with 2SLGBTQIA+ Newcomer Group formed by the YWCA, as well as being part of the Project Advisory Committee working on the LGBTQ+ Newcomer Settlement and Integration in NL. They are very passionate about hosting and creating community spaces for those with intersectional oppressions and hope to see a better future for those folks in NL.

Émile Sopkowe (they/them/iel) is a trans and queer teacher who has made 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion a keystone of their pedagogical approach. Driven by a desire to create equitable, inclusive spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ educators, students, and their families, their passion for advocacy and change led to the creation of the Gender and Sexual Diversity Special Interest Council (GSDSIC) of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association (NLTA) in 2020, of which they are now Vice-President.

Throughout Émile’s career, they established Gender and Sexuality alliance groups in multiple schools in both the English and francophone school districts,  provided countless 2SLBGTQ+ professional development sessions for their colleagues and for NLESD and provincial educational leaders, and worked extensively in the area of restorative justice. In 2022, Émile was honoured with the Barnes Award, the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association’s highest award for professional development and curriculum work. In addition to their work within the education system, Émile is devoted to volunteering with diverse community organizations outside of education, and is also the Trans Youth Group facilitator with Parents of Trans, Two-Spirit, and Gender Diverse Kids NL.

Dr. Gary Thompson (he/him) has been involved in the mining and mineral exploration industry undertaking applied research in the Newfoundland and Labrador for the past 13 years.  He has 25 years of national and international research experience, has published in respected international journals and is a registered professional geoscientist.  He continues to work extensively with all sectors of the mineral industry in Newfoundland and Labrador including industry partners, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mines and Energy Branch, and Memorial University. Dr. Thompson was nominated alongside Dr. Michael Long. Together, they work as a team to ensure that marginalized persons and groups are treated with dignity and respect, and provided full opportunity at the College of the North Atlantic (CNA).

Dr. Michael Long (he/him) has been actively engaged in Canadian and international higher education for over 22 years. In 2017, Mike began his current with College of the North Atlantic where he leads the College’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation and its teams of researchers, technicians and administrative staff. Prior to this role, Mike was the Director of Applied Research with Lethbridge College where he supported industry engagement and R&D activity overseeing projects ranging in scope from aquaponics, water quality and environmental science to virtual reality, irrigation, early childhood education and the scholarship of teaching and learning that involved dozens of industry partners.

Mike and Gary have been instrumental in promoting human rights, equality, and inclusion at the College of the North Atlantic. They have done this by pushing for an internal process to acknowledge trans and non-binary individuals’ preferred names, and providing significant accommodations for mothers joining the College.

Leigh Zachary Bursey (he/him) is an activist, journalist and researcher residing in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. A former three-term municipal politician, International Bestselling Author, and reporter on homelessness, Leigh is a second-year university student at Memorial University, a clothing designer, a former homeless youth, a former shelter worker and former provincial Housing Officer, and a member of the Scholars with Lived Experience Advisory Committee at Making the Shift. Leigh currently works as a Housing Case Manager and Supportive Housing Manager. He is also a board member for the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, and member of the Canadian Mental Health Commission Steering Committee that examines the cross section between substance use and suicide.

Leigh is also an original singer/songwriter and recording artist, both as a solo artist and also front-man of his long time Ontario group Project Mantra. Leigh is the founder of the Mount Pearl Streetfriends and co-founder of the Brockville Streetfriends in his former city of Brockville, Ontario.

Myka Hollahan (she/her) is an award winning multidisciplinary graphic designer who works for Verafin. She is a single mother to a five year old child. She has spent the last 20 years donating time and energy to various non for profit organizations, such as Home Again Furniture Bank, Foster Families Association, Quadrangle, Junior Achievement, NL Coalition against Human Trafficking and ACTS Canada.

She currently serves as a Board Director and Peer Support Facilitator for Trans Support NL and has for the last two and a half years. Within this role, she has collaborated with MHAs and MPs, advocating for the advancement of rights for trans and non-binary individuals. She has conducted numerous media interviews with the telegram and cbc on the state of transgender health care. She also contributes to the social programming within her own organization. She is a fierce individual who believes in equity and rights for all.

Sarah Worthman (she/her) is a SSHRC funded Master’s Candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador and works as a freelance policy researcher. Earlier this year she published a groundbreaking report on the human rights abuses experienced by queer Canadian soldiers in the First World War. Sarah is also the Executive Director and Founder of the NL Queer Research Initiative, a grassroots organization that was established to develop and collect 2SLGBTQIA+ centered research in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Additionally, she been nationally recognized for her advocacy campaign #nospaceforhate which addresses the growing rise in anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate across the country. Above all else, everything Sarah does is driven by a deep passion to improve the lives of 2SLGBTQIA+ people across Canada.

Visual Artist – Grenfell Campus, Memorial University
This year’s winner of the Human Rights Award Art Prize is Grace Prince. The selected winner will receive $1000 through a valued partnership developed with the local Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). They will also have their art presented as the Human Rights Award for that year.

Grace Prince (she/her) is a third-year student completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a focus in painting, sculpture, and textiles through Memorial Universities Grenfell Campus. Her artistic practice currently focuses on her perception of people and landscape, personal experiences and aesthetic representation. Prince’s work utilizes colour, composition and depictions of individuals who have impacted her while growing up and living in Newfoundland, to expand on and test the boundaries of traditional portrait painting and sculpture. Her work was most recently included in “Living Light”, a juried exhibition at the Tina Dolter Gallery, and she has additionally furthered her involvement in the arts by working in art galleries and institutions such as The Rooms Provincial Museum, Grenfell Art Gallery and The Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. In the future, Prince is looking forward to continuing her work in creative spaces and completing additional education post-graduation.


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