Falconer, Hill among Planet Africa winners


He deserves a spot high on any list of the country’s top advocates. That’s what panelists had to say of Julian Falconer’s selection as one of the Top 25 Most Influential people in Canada’s justice system and legal profession.

Bringing diversity to the table personally and professionally, he has built his reputation by arguing issues of human rights, racism and public interest.

The Law Society of Upper Canada Bencher represented the Urban Alliance on Race Relations before the Court of Appeal in the Dee Brown (a former Toronto Raptors basketball player) case which ultimately led to the Court of Appeal for Ontario recognizing for the first time racial profiling as a legitimate and valid defense for racial minority communities.

He also chaired the independent inquiry appointed by the Toronto District School Board following the May 2007 fatal shooting of C.W. Jefferys student Jordan Manners.

Last Saturday night, Falconer was recognized for his distinguished professional service with the Marcus Garvey Memorial award at the Planet Africa gala at Roy Thomson Hall.

“I thank you for this honour, but I want to emphasize that we have so much work to do, and so much caring that can still be extended to so many people who need help,” said Falconer, the son of a Jamaican father and Polish mother. “I encourage us all to look within and continue the extraordinary work of the awardees you have heard about tonight because there is simply so much work to be done.”

Author Lawrence Hill was presented with the Renaissance award. His best-selling novel, The Book of Negroes, which tells the story of a young girl who is taken from her African village and brought to the United States as a slave, has sold more than 500,000 copies in Canada.

“In the Black and other immigrant communities, the last thing that parents want to see their children become is a novelist,” said Hill who will be conferred with an honorary doctorate on Saturday at Wilfrid Laurier University where he was a writer-in-residence.

“They were looking for doctors, lawyers, engineers and successful CEOs. But I am here to tell you that knowing your own soul and paying attention to it is the most important thing of all.”

Dr. Carl Mack, the executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) which brought nearly 7,000 young Black engineers to Toronto last April for its first international convention held outside the United States, was the recipient of the Leadership award.

The NSBE is the world’s largest student-managed organization with membership reaching almost 33,000.

“When you think about why you do what you do, you do it for the benefit of mankind and not for self gratification or recognition,” said Mack, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by Clarkson University last May. “I don’t have words to truly represent how I feel about receiving this award because that’s not why I do what I do. When somebody that I help come up and say, Dr. Mack, thank you so much for all you did, that’s everything that anybody can ever hope for. I am humbled by this experience.”

Mission, British Columbia Mayor James Atebe, a roommate of Prime Minister Stephen Harper when they attended the University of Calgary, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award; actress and ReelWorld Film festival founder Tonya Lee Williams was recognized for her work in the arts; Dr. Isa Odidi and his wife Amina were honoured with a Science & Technology award and veteran Toronto Police Service cop, Ojo Tewogbade, was presented with the Volunteer of the Year award.

Other award recipients were Hazel Claxton (Professional Excellence), Dr. Olaniyi Ajisafe (Nelson Mandela Humanitarian), Bernice Carnegie (Development), Michael Beckette (Enterprise), Steven Olema (Sports), James Valitchka (Academic Achievement), The Asanteman Association of Toronto (Heritage) and Baby Boyz Dance Troupe (Rising Star).

Harmony awards honouring “Champions of Diversity” were also presented to retired Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief Keith Forde, former Mayor David Miller, ex-Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander, outgoing York Regional Police Service Chief Armand LaBarge, Toronto City Summit Alliance chair John Tory and Dr. Dora Akunyili, Nigeria’s Information and Communications minister.


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