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Catherine Frazee Appointed Officer of the Order of Canada

Catherine Frazee has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada for her advancement of the rights of persons with disabilities, and as an advocate for social justice. Her brief biography at Ryerson University includes this description:

Catherine Frazee

In three words, I’m a writer, an educator and an activist.  These three identities come together for me at Ryerson, where I happily indulge my activist inclinations and curiosities about disability rights, disability arts and the place of disabled people in moral and political culture. Drawing from my own experience of disablement as point of entry, I seek to write and teach pathways into ethical and cultural dialogues about citizenship and personhood. My present work is informed by many years of involvement in the equality struggles of disadvantaged and marginalized groups, most notably during a term as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1989 to 1992. 

Dr. Frazee became known to many LiveWorkPlay staff and members while participating in the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) conference in Ottawa in 2008. Her eloquent yet powerful advocacy has provoked many important discussions that impact on local, national, and international approaches to human rights, people with disabilities, and community inclusion. Her advocacy is not limited to any particular disability label or condition, and through her involvement with CACL she is a revered figure among those who are working towards full citizenship for people with intellectual disabilities.

I am not courageous. I have many fears, but disability is not – will never be – one of them. I am not inspirational. I revel in all of the excesses of a charmed life – privileged in work, in love, in pride, in care, in comfort. ~ Catherine Frazee

Dr. Frazee has always walked the difficult line of drawing upon her personal experiences to support advocacy for macro change. But in talking about the big picture, she has never lost sight that the struggle for human rights is very much a personal experience for those who are sublimated, subordinated, and otherwise devalued in society. In October of last year, her presentation at the Parliament of Canada regarding medically-assisted suicide exemplified this theme.

No one should argue that my life is undignified because of whatever tubes I had to be hooked up to this morning before I could settle down to write these words…Dignity does not spring from some extraordinary fortress of determination encoded within us. Dignity doesn’t work like that. Dignity is fragile and ephemeral. Allow yourself to be consumed by all of the perceived misfortunes of my predicament, and suddenly, my dignity will be shattered. 

See me as anything but your equal in human worth, and at that moment, in that glance, with that sorrowful sigh, you have robbed me of dignity. Speak of willful death as a reasonable choice for persons afflicted with the presumed indignity of physical incapacity, and my dignity is undermined. This is not some trivial conceit. For my dignity is utterly bound up with your respect for my way of life. It is not abstract, and it is not a solitary attribute. Dignity is social.

Dignity doesn’t come from inside of me. It comes from others, always, in relation to me.

Catherine Frazee is not courageous because she has a disability. But courage seems an appropriate word to describe her willingness to expose the intimate details of her life to a public audience so that others who are less able to speak out may benefit. Of course, this can only happen if others in society hear the message, take it to heart, and translate it to action.

We at LiveWorkPlay aspire to be contributors to the advancement of the rights, dignity, and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities and all citizens, and on the occasion of Catherine Frazee’s appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada, we congratulate her on her efforts to date, and celebrate that Canada has recognized the importance of her work and the issues of social justice that she has championed her entire life.