Rosemary Brown Memorial & Conference: Gender, Sexuality & Disability Justice – Recap

The Rosemary Brown Annual Memorial Conference: A Review
By Tania Arora, volunteer blogger

“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes.’ They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.’”– Clare Boothe Luce

On September 23rd, the United Nations Association of Canada – Vancouver Branch, SFU Department of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies and  Rosemary Brown Award for Women Committee hosted the fourth annual Rosemary Brown Memorial Conference at the SFU Centre for Dialogue. Each year the Rosemary Brown Award for Women recognizes and honours a BC based woman or organization that promotes the values and ideals which Rosemary Brown championed during her lifetime. Established in 2004, the award is given to those who exemplify the spirit of Rosemary Brown, who was a politician, mother, grandmother and activist committed to the fight against sexism and racism.

The award ceremony featured panellists who discussed the theme of Gender, Sexuality and Disability Justice. This year’s award recipient and the keynote speaker was Dr Dana Brynelsen, a life-long disability rights activist and former Provincial Advisor for the Infant Development Program (IDP) (1975-2009). In her role as Provincial Advisor, she supported the development of 53 IDPs in communities across BC and encouraged the development of a parallel network of Aboriginal IDPs. Dr Brynelsen accepted the award on behalf of the families and staff she has worked with over many years, those who have created and improved services for children with developmental disabilities. Dana attributed the success of the work to their ability to cross boundaries that had, in the past, rarely been crossed. Key to this was the driving advocacy of parents whose sons and daughters were, for the most part, completely excluded from normal community life and activity. Dr Brynelsen expressed her gratitude by saying, “This award has special meaning for me. I knew Rosemary, initially as most others in BC knew her, as a brilliant orator, politician, and passionate champion of human rights.” She concluded with a few words about the pressing concerns facing us today, “It is true that we have made great gains over the past decades, in terms of services and support in the area of disability… but how quickly gains are eroded and lost when our values and attitudes about what is important shift.”

2017 Rosemary Brown Award Recipient: Dr Dana Brynelsen

The Rosemary Brown Undergraduate Awards in Social Justice were presented by Willeen Keough and Lara Campbell of Simon Fraser University to recipients Maisaloon Al- Ashkar and Shilpa Narayan. Shilpa is an undergraduate student majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies who has been involved with Youth for a Change (Surrey), Lookout Emergency Aid Society, and the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at the BC Children’s Hospital. Shilpa has also worked on programming for refugee youth, mental health, queer youth, and elder abuse and has given keynote speeches on mental wellness. She also runs a drop-in centre for people diagnosed with HIV. Shilpa’s dedication to her studies at Simon Fraser University and her social justice work exemplify the highest standards of community engagement and academic achievement.

Maisaloon is completing a double major in First Nations Studies and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. She works as a women’s centre coordinator in Vancouver and has been involved with The Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) throughout her studies. Wise and sassy, she is a 20-year-old Muslim woman and displaced Palestinian who unapologetically speaks her truth.

Congratulations to all the recipients!

The Panel

Chaired by Dr Coleman Nye of Simon Fraser University, the panel explored the theme of Gender, Sexuality and Disability Justice. The first panellist, Rena Cohen of Realwheels Theatre, spoke about artistic mandate and the “Sexy Voices” creation/ performance project and how people with disabilities speak up to the world through art. The second panellist was Elisabeth Walker- Young of the Canucks Autism Network and a four-time Paralympian swimmer. In 2015 Elisabeth was chosen for the role of chef de mission (official leader and spokesperson) for Team Canada at the Para-Pan-American Games – an incredible honour that speaks volumes about her passion and reputation for advocacy. During the panel, Elisabeth spoke about the power of language and the diversity of Canada, and mobility/participation of people with disabilities. Sharing her background as an athlete, Elisabeth recounted, “By mistake, I got involved in inclusive sport and have gained so much out of it. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone — regardless of their circumstances or lived experiences — deserves the right to participate and reap the benefits of being active within their community.” Dr Delphine Labbe of University of British Columbia Occupational Science and Therapy was the third panellist. A PhD in community psychology, Labbe is interested in understanding the environmental factors that have an impact on the social participation of people with disabilities. She discussed her upcoming project on unemployment and physical ability. Our final panellist was Laura Johnston, a lawyer from the Community Legal Assistance Society and advocate for people with mental disabilities in detention. Laura conducts systemic litigation and engages in research, law reform, and lobbying efforts to improve access to justice, fairness, and the rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for marginalized populations. In her presentation, she spoke about the lack of rights afforded to those put in psychiatric institutions, such as forcible detention and a lack of legal representation once in the system. She also pointed out that our province’s outdated Mental Health Act does not meet Charter standards.

The legacy of Rosemary Brown is to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself, that progress is maintained and rights are upheld for the most vulnerable. Thank you to all of the conference participants and attendees. We look forward to continuing to honour Rosemary Brown by promoting dialogue that shines a light on overlooked and important issues.

Disability Justice: The Call to Action

By: Naomi Shi (bio below), UNA blog writer


Disability, the theme of the upcoming Rosemary Brown Conference this year, is experienced by more than 19% of the world population. In Canada alone, more than 5.3 million people are affected by some form disability. Discrimination towards persons with disabilities is ingrained in our culture and is still immensely relevant to the international community. Ableism conceptualizes the belief that people with disabilities are inferior, and that having a disability is a defect rather than a dimension of difference. The interpretation of difference as a defect is the root of ableist acts, as it fosters the culture of discrimination in society.

However, ableism is more blatantly and commonly integrated into our culture, albeit the great anti-discrimination progress that is repeatedly depicted. Many nowadays fail to even recognize ableism as legitimate and predominant discrimination. Accessibility, or the lack thereof, is one of the most obvious forms of discrimination people with disabilities face. Disabled people are still to access places and services only open to their able-bodied counterparts. How often have you seen wheelchair ramps at the back of a building? Is that something you even notice? Ableist terms have also become naturalized in the English language, with many people carelessly using pejoratives (and often without knowing the harmful connotation behind these words) in casual conversations, harmfully promoting the prejudicial treatment of people with disabilities in daily life.

Although ableism is a significant and universal detriment, it is consistently marginalized and disregarded as a pressing and relevant social justice concern. Framed as lacking, undesirable, and laced with pity and stigma, the wrongful perception of people who have disabilities and the blind integration of ableist acts in society contributes to the widespread assumption that disability does not constitute a serious category of oppression. While indignation with issues such as racism and sexism is heavily circulated and publicized by social justice activists, it contrasts their chronic disregard and indifference towards ableism. This normalizes the marginalization of disability, and it further undervalues the weight of ableism when compared to other forms of discrimination.

The winner of the Rosemary Brown Award for Women this year has helped change how society views people with mental disabilities. Dr Dana Brynelsen is a stalwart advocate for the rights of children with learning disorders. Pioneering the Infant Development Programs of BC since their founding from 1975 to 2009, Brynelsen has dedicated her efforts to promote inclusion at a time when isolation of children with developmental disabilities was common. The program she fronted has ensured over 100,000 families had the support they needed to help these children realize their full potential. As the recipient of numerous awards for her work in the areas of early childhood intervention, Dr. Brynelsen has been recognized for her unyielding commitment to the well-being of infants and families across BC. She received the Order of British Columbia – the province’s most prestigious honour – in 2014.

The call for disability justice is urgent and pressing. Dr. Dana Brynelsen’s persistent work in the domain of early childhood intervention exhibits how the fostering of a culture based on inclusion, rather than segregation, has positively altered society’s perception of disability. Through her achievements in her field, she shows how disability justice has the power to not only change the way how people perceive their culture and its regards to diversity and difference but also to fundamentally change the way social change is enacted. It is vital that disability, and ableism, be considered equally amongst other issues of social justice.

The fourth annual Rosemary Brown Conference will be held on September 23rd at Asia Pacific Hall at the Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University and will include discussions on gender, sexuality, and disability.

Naomi Shi

Naomi Shi
Volunteer Blog Writer, UNA Vancouver
Naomi is an avid and eager student who is driven by curiosity. She is a student newspaper editor, a youth parliamentarian, and is currently approaching her senior year at Little Flower Academy. She strives to learn more about past events that shaped the world around her and understand its correlation to current events that continue to dominate and influence the world today. Having been an active participant in Model United Nations for three years – through attempting to rectify simulated international conflicts, she has become a more conscientious student. Model UN has increased her knowledge in world matter and allowed her to better comprehend different mindsets and perspectives through attempting to rectify international conflicts. In 2016, Naomi volunteered with Canada Global Culture and Education Association along with 70 other British Columbians as Canadian ambassadors, leading a cultural exchange camp in Guangzhou, China. She was able to teach and supervise workshops on English, Canadian history, and social justice for five weeks to underprivileged youth in China. She is excited to complete her final year of secondary education, as she hopes to pursue her interest in sociology and post-colonialism in the future.
If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
I would love to go to Israel, as it is an epicentre of history and religion. Visiting Jerusalem and its bountiful landmarks of cultural, historical, and religious significance is something that I wish to do within my lifetime.