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The City of Edmonton Youth Council and the Youth Project on Poverty/John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, both led by Arts alumni, were honoured by the Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC)

By Donna McKinnon on May 27, 2015

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The City of Edmonton Youth Council and the Youth Project on Poverty/John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, both led by Arts alumni, were honoured by the Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC) during their annual general meeting last week at the Edmonton Public Library. In recognition of their work addressing gay-straight alliances in schools, homelessness and poverty, the two youth groups were this year’s recipients of the ESPC Award of Merit for Advocacy of Social Justice.

The ESPC Award recognizes forward-looking and courageous individuals and groups that, in the face of controversy, seek social justice for a defined group or for the whole community. “The ESPC Board wanted to recognize the advocacy work of youth in Edmonton during our 75th anniversary year, as a way to focus on the future,” said Erin LaRocque, an ESPC board member and selection committee member.

Third year political science student Claire Edwards is chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council (CEYC), a committee made up of young people between the ages of 13 to 23 who provide feedback and input to City Council. “Our goal is to empower youth in municipal politics,” says Edwards. The group works on projects that deal with issues important to youth, focusing on education, advocacy, and direct, meaningful experiences with the processes of government. This year the CEYC created a motion to oppose Bill 10, presenting it to City Council where it was passed unanimously. In its original form, Bill 10 would have allowed Alberta school boards to reject students’ requests to form gay-straight alliances. After the CEYC advocated for support in the community and organized a public forum called We Are Listening, the Government of Alberta amended Bill 10, removing the controversial clause. The CEYC was also recognized for its participation in the documentary filmThrough My Eyes, a hard-hitting look at the realities of Edmonton’s at-risk, homeless youth.

The ESPC recognized the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights for its Youth Action Project on Poverty, which brought together young people keen on broadening their understanding of poverty in Edmonton. Faculty of Arts alumna Renée Vaugeois (’04 MA, Political Science) is Executive Director of the Centre and is an experienced human rights advocate, coordinating a number of international initiatives both at the University of Alberta and the Government of Alberta. The six-month project was led by two Aboriginal youth, who along with other participants, met weekly with social service agencies and outreach programs, conducting interviews and discussing poverty in Edmonton with a human rights focus. The group prepared a series of recommendations, which were presented to the Mayor’s Task Force for the Elimination of Poverty. City Council has since passed a motion to review bylaws and enforcement that adversely impact those experiencing poverty.

Programs Coordinator for the Centre, Maigan van der Giessen (BA ’12, Political Science), will be launching the next phase of the Youth Action Project in September 2015, building on the recommendations developed in the first phase of the project. “It’s really exciting because we will be bringing the recommendations to life. One of the things I find really powerful about this is that we are not waiting for the City or ‘adults' in our community to act. We are working to support young people in their vision to address poverty and negative attitudes towards those who experience poverty. When youth stand up and take action they are showing that they understand the interconnectedness of human rights and responsibility; collective as well as individual responsibility to not only speak out against injustice but to act, collaborate and investigate.  I am so proud of their courage and dedication to push forward on these issues