On the sixth anniversary of the Montréal Massacre, it was somehow fitting that the recipient of the 17th annual Pearson Medal was a francophone woman from Québec who has devoted most of her life to the promotion of human rights and justice.
Gisèle Côté-Harper – professor of law, human rights expert, and Chair of the board of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development – received the award at a ceremony at Rideau Hall on December 6.
In accepting the award, Côté-Harper described being motivated by “an adamant refusal to give in to powerlessness and a constant attempt at finding ways to provide better conditions of justice and peace, be it locally, provincially, nationally and internationally.”
Côté-Harper’s own work for justice and peace has ranged from the local to the international. A professor of law at Laval University for over 20 years, she began her career working with young victims of physical and psychological abuse in Montréal. She currently sits on numerous boards of international development agencies, and participated in the official Canadian delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing last September. In a world where the violation of the rights of women and girls continues despite almost universal condemnation by the international community, she said the real inspiration in Beijing was “the mobilization of thousands of human beings from all over the world who will no longer, ever again, remain silent.”
In presenting his first Pearson Peace Medal as honorary patron of UNA-Canada, Governor General Roméo Leblanc invoked the memory of the award’s namesake. Lester B. Pearson, he said, “knew that peace would remain a fleeting dream if children continued to die of starvation. That peace would wither in fear and ignorance with insufficient education. That political oppression would forever try to block the rays of peace. And that progress would slip away without a growing respect for human rights.” The work of Côté-Harper, he said, shows what a committed individual can accomplish in responding to these challenges.