2023 Human Rights Award Recipients Honoured

Dec 08, 2023

Four individual Nova Scotians and two groups were recognized with Nova Scotia Human Rights Awards for their work creating a more equitable, inclusive and respectful province at an event held December 8, in Halifax.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission presents the awards annually on or around international Human Rights Day (December 10) to recipients nominated by their peers.

“The principles enshrined in human rights law have the power to unite us in our pursuit of equity and the protection of one another’s inherent dignity,” said Joseph Fraser, Director and CEO, Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. “Today’s award recipients exemplify a commitment to empowering people that all Nova Scotians should aspire toward.”

The Nia Summit Youth Ambassadors received the youth award for their leadership in planning and hosting the 2023 Nia Summit and facilitating community-building among Black youth and youth of African ancestry.

Individual awards were presented to:

  • Veronica Merryfield, Marion Bridge, in recognition of her dedication to advancing equity and advocating for the rights of members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community
  • Sheila Wildeman, Halifax, in recognition of her advocacy for the human rights of incarcerated people and people with disabilities

Tia Upshaw, Halifax, received an award named in honour of the late Burnley Allan (Rocky) Jones for championing racial equality and fostering economic empowerment for women of colour.

Pamela Glode-Desrochers, Halifax, was presented the Wel-lukwen Award in recognition of her leadership and advocacy, locally and nationally, for the rights of urban communities of L’nu and other Indigenous people.

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia received the group/organization award for its work to advance the rights and prevent the criminalization of women, girls and gender-diverse individuals.

A recording of the Awards presentation event can be viewed here.

Recipient Photos

Nia Summit Youth Ambassadors

Youth Award

For about five months in 2023 (including the summer months), 12 High School youth worked tirelessly to organize a first-of-its-kind all-Black Youth Summit - the Nia Summit.

Together they identified the keynote speaker, designed the summit logo, determined the swag and merchandize, led the communications and media promotion efforts, determined the menu and contracted the caterers.

This ambitious group coordinated volunteers, organized the decorations, moderated the panel discussion, and emceed the event – they diligently took care of every aspect of this monumental project.

Their efforts paid off as 130 High School students from across the province gathered at the Black Cultural Centre on September 22 for the Nia Summit where the theme of the summit was “Equal in Dignity and Rights: Anti-Black Racism from a youth perspective.”

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission recognizes the Nia Youth Ambassadors for their leadership and dedication to bringing the youth perspective to the human rights conversation through the Nia Summit.

Individual Youth Ambassadors are:

  • Dasia Abbey
  • Moriah Aladejebi
  • Nwadilioramma Azuka-Onwuka
  • Praise Babalola
  • Jorja-Rain Cain
  • Linden Chambers
  • Keira Grady
  • Nevaeh O’Connell
  • Princess Okorie
  • Joshua Paris
  • Nathan Tesfazion
  • Jayreece Whiley

Veronica Merryfield

Individual Award

Motivated by her passion for music, Veronica Merryfield’s journey into electronics started in her early teens. After completing her formal education in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Portsmouth University, England, she worked in a broad spectrum of markets and has a few patents. She is now mostly retired from tech. Building on her transgender and intersex journey to womanhood, she has established herself as an EDI and trans rights community leader. 

Veronica is board chair for the Every Woman’s Center, Cape Breton Center for Sexual Health, Marion Bridge School advisory Council, and is a member of the Status of Women Advisory Council and Cape Breton Pride board. She has worked successfully to effect changes to legislation and has worked with the Department of Health and Wellness on Gender affirming care. She is the founder of the Cape Breton Transgender Network and the Nova Scotia Intersex Support Network. 

Veronica has two daughters and four grandchildren, makes musical instruments, plays bass guitar and keyboards, is a writer, photographer and is partial to a decent cup of tea.

Sheila Wildeman

Individual Award

Sheila Wildeman is Associate Director of Dalhousie University’s Health Justice Institute and an Associate Professor at the Schulich School of Law, where she teaches Administrative Law, Poverty Law and Human Rights, and Imprisonment and Penal Policy.  She is also Co-Chair (with Harry Critchley) of East Coast Prison Justice Society [ECPJS]. Sheila is a co-founder of and on the Steering Committee of the ECPJS Visiting Committee project: a civil society jail monitoring initiative guided by international and domestic human rights, which produces monthly reporting and an annual public-facing report on conditions of confinement in Nova Scotia jails.  Sheila is grateful for the hard work of Visiting Committee staff and the prisoners who have reached out through the ECPJS jail line to share their experiences with us over the last three years of near-continual lockdowns in Nova Scotia jails.

Sheila’s research and publications, like her community work, asks how law may be used to advance the justice aspirations of persons marginalized by legal as well as health and social service systems. With a focus on the justice claims of disabled people and prisoners, her work draws on human rights law, critical disability theory and critical carceral studies to ground claims to positive supports for agency and equal community membership reflective of intersectional substantive equality. 

For the past three years Sheila has worked with an arts-based action research collective, My Home My Rights.  The collective’s work, funded through a SSHRC Partnership Engage grant held by the law school and Inclusion Nova Scotia, centres the insights of six core collective members with intellectual disabilities and other disabilities. Together with a wider group of arts-based supporters, the collective has created art and videos in support of its ongoing advocacy.  We shared our multi-media exhibit, My Home My Rights: Exploring Disability Rights, Imagining Disability Justice, at the Halifax Central Library in May, 2023, and will share it at a conference celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Belgium, December 6-8.

Sheila has achieved nothing notable that does not reflect and seek to amplify the collective ideas and actions of many.  She shares this award with her friends and colleagues at East Coast Prison Justice Society, allied organizations including Elizabeth Fry Societies Mainland NS and Cape Breton, Wellness Within, and Coverdale Justice Society, and of course, the My Home My Rights Action Research Collective.

Tia Upshaw

Dr. Burnley Allan "Rocky" Jones Award

Tia Upshaw, a dynamic individual, seamlessly navigates the roles of a devoted mother, accomplished author, and serial entrepreneur, leaving an indelible mark on her community and beyond.

As a mother of three, Tia not only understands the delicate balance of family responsibilities but draws inspiration from her children, using their experiences as a catalyst for positive change. Beyond motherhood, Tia is a captivating author whose insightful and thought-provoking works empower individuals to overcome obstacles and unlock their full potential.

Her influence extends beyond the literary realm—Tia is a serial entrepreneur with a relentless drive and innovative mindset, creating multiple successful businesses. Beyond economic contributions, she has provided numerous employment opportunities, contributing significantly to her community's growth.

Tia's leadership and business acumen have earned her nominations for prestigious awards, including Business Leader of the Year by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and RBC Woman of Influence. Recognized as one of the Top 100 Black Women in Canada in 2023 and honored with the Dave Richardson Champion Award from Rise.

Her commitment to fostering entrepreneurship led to her role as the Professional in Residence at the Saint Mary's University L. Authur Entrepreneurship Center in 2023. Here, she imparts her expertise, guiding aspiring entrepreneurs through the challenges of starting and growing their businesses.

Passionate about supporting and uplifting Black women, Tia is the founder and CEO of Blk Women in Excellence, established in 2020. This groundbreaking organization provides a transformative space for Black women in Nova Scotia and Kelowna, BC, fostering connection, collaboration, and thriving.

In her multifaceted role at St. Mary's University, Tia serves as a mentor for the Rise and Scotia Bank Women's Mentorship Initiative in partnership with the Forum. Her motivational speeches resonate, encouraging individuals to fearlessly pursue their dreams. Tia's unique Afrocentric lens, shared through various platforms, provides practical insights and actionable strategies for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Tia Upshaw's unwavering dedication to empowering women and fostering entrepreneurship is a driving force for positive change, making her a mentor and a beacon of empowerment that shapes communities and inspires greatness.

Pamela Glode-Derochers

Wel-lukwen Award

Pamela Glode Desrochers has worked with the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre for over 28 years and has been Executive Director for more than 12 years.

Her mandate at the Friendship Centre is to provide quality programs to urban Indigenous people. These programs focus on reducing poverty and crime, health, housing, homelessness, justice and promote personal and community health and well-being. She has a central role in developing a new Friendship Centre that will provide opportunities for the urban Indigenous community to become self-sustainable.

Under her leadership, the number of programs and services offered at the Friendship Centre has increased from 8 and to 40. Programs include housing and homelessness, employment and training, early childhood education, several literacy programs and a youth program.

Pam currently sits on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Friendship Centers. She received the Governor General’s award: Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers in Ottawa for Outstanding Indigenous Leadership.

Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia

Group/Organization Award

Established in 1984, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia is a non-profit organization striving to address the root causes of criminalization of women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals.

The staff at E Fry engage with these vulnerable populations to foster their personal empowerment and aid them in developing stronger connections to community.

The organization is devoted to improving the lives of women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals in Nova Scotia through comprehensive housing supports, implementing innovative programming initiatives, promoting justice system reform, and supporting the building of individual capacity, contributing to the development of positive relationships within communities.

Geared toward personal empowerment, gender-based violence support, employment, and education, programs offered to clients include: Relapse Prevention, encompassing workshops that focus on managing substance abuse through use of problem-solving strategies; Women for Change, a five-week program that addresses barriers to forming healthy relationships; Creating Communities of Care, a network dedicated to creating initiatives and spaces that prioritize Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities navigating the justice system; the Abundance Program, a comprehensive initiative providing participants with necessary information and tools for supporting their employment and educational journeys; and Girls Against Trafficking and Exploitation, which in collaboration with local youth organizations, aims to heal and empower femme-identifying youth at the intersection of potential criminalization and exploitation.