Honorary degree recipients showcase leadership and excellence

Lawyer and civil rights activist Marlys Edwardh, radio commentator and journalist Andy Barrie and astronaut Julie Payette are among 11 distinguished national figures who will receive honorary degrees from York at Spring Convocation ceremonies. The ceremonies begin this Friday and continue to Saturday, June 19. Here are the recipients, in order of the Faculty ceremonies where they will be honoured.

Eileen Mercier (right), businesswoman
Honorary Doctor of Laws
Schulich School of Business
Friday, June 11, 10:30am

Eileen Mercier has distinguished herself with an exceptional career in business for more than 36 years. Among the first women in Canada to build a career in corporate governance, she has made a significant impact in her field through her work with over 28 corporate, public, academic and charitable organizations, and has displayed an exemplary track record of volunteerism and philanthropy. Mercier has held directorships in organizations including Hydro One Inc., Quebecor World Inc., Winpak Ltd. and Journey’s End Corp. A graduate of York University (MBA ’77), she is a former senior vice-president and chief financial officer of Abitibi-Price and former president of Finvoy Management Inc. Mercier is currently chair of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board and a director of CGI Group Inc., ING Canada Inc., Intact Financial Corp. and Teekay Shipping Corp. Mercier sits on the board of a number of not-for-profit corporations and is a past recipient of the Schulich School of Business Award for Outstanding Public Contribution. An honorary governor of York University, she currently serves on Schulich’s Dean’s Advisory Council. Her support for the University extends beyond the area of governance: she has also championed York’s interdisciplinary mandate through her establishment of the Ernest C. Mercier Lecture in Entrepreneurial Science.

Marlys Edwardh (left), lawyer and civil rights activist
Honorary Doctor of Laws
Osgoode Hall Law School
Friday, June 11, 3:30pm

Marlys Edwardh (LLB ’74) is a criminal lawyer and civil rights activist. A graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, she is widely known for her dedication to civil rights and the rights of the wrongly accused. She was a partner in the law firm of Ruby & Edwardh for many years and has been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including the wrongful conviction cases of Donald Marshall, Guy Paul Morin and Steven Truscott − cases which had a significant impact on the Canadian legal system. Edwardh has served as counsel for a number of royal commissions, including the Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada (Krever Commission). Most recently, she represented Maher Arar at the commission of inquiry into his extraordinary rendition from the United States to Syria. She has received a number of accolades, including the Osgoode Hall Law School Dianne Martin Medal for Social Justice Through Law (2005) and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression International Press Freedom Award (2005). Edwardh is a vice-president of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and a special adviser to the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.

Julie Payette (right), astronaut
Doctor of Science
Faculty of Environmental Studies and Faculty of Science & Engineering
Monday, June 14, 10:30am

In 1999, Julie Payette became the second Canadian woman to fly in space as a mission specialist with the space shuttle Discovery’s flight STS-96. She was the first Canadian to participate in an International Space Station assembly mission and to board the space station. A decade later, in July of last year, she visited the International Space Station as a flight engineer on space shuttle Endeavour’s flight STS-127, operating three robotic arms that were vitally important to the mission’s success. In all, Payette has logged more than 611 hours in space. Before joining the space program, Payette, an electrical and computer engineer, conducted research in computer systems, natural language processing and automatic speech recognition. In 1992, she was one of four people chosen by the Canadian Space Agency from 5,330 applicants to become astronauts. She served as chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007. Since 2003, she has worked as a CAPCOM (spacecraft communicator) at Mission Control Center in Houston: she was the lead CAPCOM for space shuttle mission STS-121 (2006), responsible for all communications between ground controllers and astronauts in flight. Payette has a broad range of talents and is a trained pianist and soprano soloist who has performed with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in Toronto. She is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. The most prestigious postgraduate scholarships offered by the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada are the Julie Payette-NSERC Research Scholarships.

Shan Chandrasekar (left), founder, president & CEO, Asian Television Network
Honorary Doctor of Laws
Faculty of Fine Arts and Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
Monday, June 14, 3:30pm

Shan Chandrasekar has expanded the cultural life of Canadians through the establishment of the Asian Television Network (ATN), which reaches a multicultural audience in Canada and across North America. Starting in the 1970s, he created the first television programming dedicated to Toronto’s South Asian community, and formed the ATN in 1993. The company also operates ATN Asian Radio, with dedicated South Asian radio service 24 hours a day across Canada and the United States. In addition to his contributions to broadcasting, Chandrasekar has also been active in supporting local, regional and national organizations, and has provided support for many cultural initiatives in Toronto and elsewhere. He is a former member of the Board of Directors and vice-chairman of the Specialty & Pay Television Sector of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. He has also served on the boards of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Southlake Regional Health Centre, the Hummingbird Centre, the Canadian Club, TELUS Toronto Community Board and York’s Accolade Project. He is currently a member of the Advisory Council for York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. In 2004, Chandrasekar was inducted into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame. In 2008, ATN was recognized with the Business Excellence Award for Large Business of the Year from the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce.

Naomi Black (right), scholar and activist
Honorary Doctor of Laws
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies II
Tuesday, June 15, 10:30am

Naomi Black was among the founders of York’s pioneering Graduate Program in Women’s Studies and helped shape the intellectual and cultural makeup of York University as we know it today. Black began teaching at York in 1964 – the first woman hired in York’s Department of Political Science at a time when many such departments across Canada did not employ female professors. She promoted the study of women and feminism within political science, fighting to legitimize the study of women and politics within her department as well as within the Canadian Political Science Association, which led to the creation of its Women’s Caucus. Working from her training in political science, she helped initiate a range of programs that sparked York’s interdisciplinary mandate, and gave women’s studies at York a national profile. As an active feminist, she was invited in 1972 to serve on the Ontario Commission on the Status of Women. Since the 1970s, her research and publications have focused on the history of feminism, women’s leadership and women’s history. Black helped establish York’s Nellie Langford Rowell Women’s Studies Library, and is one of six authors of Canadian Women: A History, the first survey text of women’s history in Canada, which has become a widely used resource for students.

Joseph Sorbara (left), lawyer, businessman and York volunteer
Honorary Doctor of Laws
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies III
Tuesday, June 15, 3:30pm

Joseph Sorbara (LLB ’68), an alumnus of Osgoode Hall Law School, is a lawyer, real estate developer and a longtime volunteer for York University. He and his family have given generously to various York initiatives, particularly for student financial support, and he has dedicated many hours and much expertise to York. Sorbara was appointed to the York University Board of Governors in 1988 and was made an honorary governor in 2000, after 12 years of service. He is currently chair of the Board of Directors of the York University Development Corporation and, as such, sits ex-officio on the Land & Property Committee. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the York University Foundation and in 2004 received a Bruce Bryden Alumni Award for his many contributions to York. Sorbara, who is a principal with The Sorbara Group and practises law with the firm Tanzola & Sorbara, volunteers with many organizations beyond York University, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, York-Finch General Hospital and North York General Hospital. 

Andy Barrie (right), radio commentator and journalist
Honorary Doctor of Laws
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies IV 
Wednesday, June 16, 10:30am

Andy Barrie recently signed off as host of CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning”, one of the Greater Toronto Area’s most listened-to and respected radio programs. Over his years on air, Barrie became a shaping force for how Torontonians see their city, their country, and their world: we came to rely on his sharp, intelligent and fair interviews on a wide range of timely topics. Barrie launched his broadcasting career at Montreal’s CJAD Radio and in 1977 came to Toronto to work for CFRB, with stints at CJCL Radio and Global TV. In 1995, he began as host of “Metro Morning”, a position he held until March of this year. During his time as host of “Metro Morning”, Barrie interviewed many of York’s faculty members on academic, political and social issues. The depth and respect with which he treated each subject is often remarked upon: his interviewees praised his ability to present all sides of an issue, adding crucial context for listeners with his own informed and articulate commentary. In addition to his achievements as a broadcaster, Barrie is also a former director of the Toronto Arts Foundation, and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Canadian Journalism Foundation and the Advancement Board of the Clarke Institute Foundation.  

Austin Clarke (left), author
Honorary Doctor of Letters
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies V
Wednesday, June 16, 3:30pm

Austin Clarke is an award-winning writer whose works have had an enormous impact on the Canadian literary imagination. Born in Barbados, Clarke has contributed to Canada as a public intellectual speaking out on issues of race and racism since the 1960s, and as an author whose fiction gives voice to the immigrant experience. His 2002 novel The Polished Hoe, in which Clarke returned to a Caribbean setting, was awarded the 2002 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the 2003 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the 2003 Trillium Book Award. Clarke was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1998 for his contributions as an author, teacher and community activist, and is also a member of the Order of Ontario (2002). A mentor to young writers, he has contributed greatly to the Canadian literary scene and in particular to the strong presence of writers of colour. He was awarded the W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize in 1999, presented annually by the Writers’ Trust of Canada to a writer who has produced an outstanding body of work and has acted as a caring mentor for writers.

Cathy Crowe (right), street nurse
Honorary Doctor of Laws
Faculty of Health II
Thursday, June 17, 3:30pm

Cathy Crowe has committed her life and career to alleviating homelessness in Canada. Crowe has been a street nurse in downtown Toronto for more than 15 years, and a vocal advocate for social justice and equity to help improve the lives of the marginalized and poor. In 1998, Crowe co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC), which sparked Canada-wide action on affordable housing by declaring homelessness a national disaster. The campaign’s signature “one per cent” slogan demands that all levels of government commit an additional one per cent of their budgets to an affordable social housing program. As a board member of St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing, Crowe recently secured 272 new affordable housing units in Toronto. She is also a past member of the Toronto Board of Health and the Toronto City Council Advisory Committee on Homeless & Socially Isolated Persons. Crowe is the recipient of many awards, among them the International Nursing Ethics Award and the Atkinson Charitable Foundation’s Economic Justice Award. In 2002, her life’s work was the subject of a documentary film titled Street Nurse, directed by Emmy and Gemini winner Shelley Saywell. Crowe holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in adult education.

Bill Hogarth (left), educator
Honorary Doctor of Laws
Faculty of Education I
Friday, June 18, 10:30am

William Hogarth served with distinction for 16 years as director of education for the York Region District School Board before retiring in December 2009. Throughout his 39-year career as an educator, Hogarth was a deeply committed advocate of public education. As director of education, he demonstrated an unrelenting focus on improving student achievement, not only through classroom instruction but by building innovative programs and partnerships to promote healthy families and communities in York Region. He understood the need for a strong relationship between the community and school board, to identify at an early age students with challenges and provide the assistance they need. To this end, he became founding director of the Community Alliance for York Region Education in 1997, a community-based organization that has leveraged considerable business and government support for programs and initiatives regarding anti-bullying, student leadership and early literacy. In 1999, Hogarth became founding chair of the York Region Advisory Forum on Children, Youth & Families, a coalition of more than 65 community organizations that support and promote optimal child development. On his retirement, Hogarth left a legacy of a radically transformed school board whose young people are now among the most literate and highest school achievers in Ontario. His innovations are being emulated by school districts across Canada and internationally. 

Viola Léger (right), actress, former Canadian senator
Honorary Doctor of Laws
Glendon College
Saturday, June 19, 2:30pm

Viola Léger occupies a unique place in Canadian cultural, social and political life. She is known nationally as an actor who for decades has played the lead character in Antonine Maillet’s play La Sagouine. While she has also performed with distinction in plays by Michel Tremblay, Tennessee Williams and many others, she has become indelibly identified with La Sagouine. Léger has also become a cultural ambassador for the Acadian people. In 1999, she set up the Fondation Viola Léger for the promotion and development of theatre in Acadia. Léger, who began her career as a high-school teacher in the Moncton area, is a recipient of the New Brunswick Francophone Teachers’ Association’s Award of Merit in recognition of her contribution to the advancement of French-language education and the teaching profession in that province. Léger is the recipient of many other awards and honours, including Chevalier de L’Ordre de la Pléiade, the Dora Mavor Moore Award, the Médaille du Conseil de la Vie Français en Amérique, and The Award for Excellence in Theatre from the Government of New Brunswick. Léger is an officer of the Order of Canada and in 2001 was appointed to the Canadian Senate, a post from which she retired in 2005. 

York’s 2010 Spring Convocation ceremonies will be held at the Tennis Canada Rexall Centre on York’s Keele campus with the exception of the Glendon College ceremony, which will take place at the Glendon College campus, at 2275 Bayview Ave. Please note that tickets to some ceremonies may be sold out. If you can’t attend, you can watch the ceremonies streamed live – and then archived – on the Internet here.