Today is International Women’s Day. To mark the occasion, today’s profiles will look at some of the many women who have shaped and influenced the Canada we know today. We can only cover a tiny fraction of the women who have inspired us in one blog post (we would need a small army and thousands of blog posts to even begin to cover it), and for that we apologize but we hope that the following, chosen from our childhood and the question “what rocked us in the last year?” (yes, that was the actual question), here they are:
66-year-old Hanne Schafer was suffering from ALS. Near the end of her life, she could communicate with her husband by typing with a few of the fingers on her left hand. Her husband had to carry her to and from the bathroom and had to repeatedly suction saliva so that his wife would not choke to death.
She had been planning to travel to Switzerland for a physician assisted death. However, before that could happen, the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that Parliament would have to come up with assisted dying legislation. Until that legislation could be passed, Canadians could apply to a court for a constitutional exemption, allowing an assisted death.
Though she could have boarded that plane, she instead tested Canada’s process for a death with dignity. She had difficulty finding a doctor in her home town in Calgary so ended up in Vancouver, with Dr. Ellen Wiebe. She had further challenges finding the right lawyer to bring her application before the courts. There were even issues around a publication ban that was meant to respect her privacy until her death but allow her story to be told afterward. Nothing was straight forward. Triumphing over the hurdles her ALS gave her, she spent hours fighting to ensure her application would succeed, hopefully making the process clearer and easier for others after her.
She died in Vancouver on February 29, 2016, the first (legal) physician assisted death in Canada. Sue Rodriguez, also suffering from ALS, petitioned the Supreme Court for similar relief in 1992 and was denied. Ms. Rodriquez died with the help of an unknown physician two years later. Canada’s right to die legislation would become law on June 17th, 2016.
On November 17, 2016 Ginella Massa became the first hijabi wearing woman to anchor a major Canadian news broadcast when she took the anchor’s chair for CityNews. The year before, she became the first hijabi wearing on air news reporter with City.
In a radio interview, Ms. Massa acknowledged receiving some hateful comments after her broadcast but said that overall, the response was “overwhelmingly positive.” While acknowledging her first, she added that she hopes she won’t be the last.
Ms. Massa says that her first just shouldn’t be an issue. And it shouldn’t, she’s right but in a time when Islamophobia is on the rise, politicians use fear-mongering against Muslims to gain votes, and hate crimes are increasing, Ms. Massa’s achievement, along with promoting diversity generally, becomes that much more important.
Angela James. Some say she is the “Wayne Gretsky” of Women’s hockey. We say she’s the Angela Bad-Ass James of hockey.
When she was finally inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, she was one of the first two females, the first openly gay player and the second black player to be inducted. She led the Canadian women’s team to World Championship gold four time through the 90s, becoming a superstar despite the racism, poverty and sexism she faced as a youth.
She had a hard time finding teams to play on as a child, starting off on a boys’ team, where she was the highest scorer. She also faced racial taunts and slurs as a child, being of mixed race, though she never let any of that stop her from becoming one of the best hockey players in the world.
Dr. Nutt is a staff physician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. It’s important work but perhaps more importantly she is the founder of War Child Canada and War Child USA.
She speaks internationally on issues that affect children in war zones, recently giving a TED Talk on the impact of the global arms trade on children in these vulnerable situations. Her unique experience has given her an expertise and important voice for children all over the world.
Her organizations deliver development and humanitarian aid in conflict nations as well as access to education, work opportunities and justice.
Dr. Roberta Bondar is Canada’s first female astronaut and hero to thousands of young girls who have too often been told that sciences and math were fields for boys.
A neurologist, at the time of the selection of candidates to the Canadian space program, Dr. Bondar was studying the nervous system and inner ear balancing system and how those affect the eye. Her experiments on board her Discovery mission were designed to help astronauts spend more time in zero gravity and low gravity environments.
She is an inductee into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (there is one! Other inductees include Dr. John McCrae and Terry Fox), has 5 degrees and 22 honorary degrees, and she is an appointee to the Order of Ontario and an Officer of the Order of Canada.
A nurse from a small village in New Brunswick, Mme. Gatreau travelled all over the world fighting for the rights of women and communities, along with promoting access to clean water and sanitation.
Returning to New Brunswick, she fought for pay equity legislation for New Brunswickers as both President and a member of the Coalition for Pay Equity. She was since appointed to the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.
She also helped to establish a shelter for battered women.
“Canada took me when I had nowhere to go. It allowed me to gradually find my way back to myself and to the reality of the person I have become, a woman who breathes because she has a story to tell, a story that is not only hers but, in a humble and imperfect yet honest way, is also the story of thousands of others who have been terribly wronged.”