Spirit of Barbra Schlifer Award

In May 2012, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic launched its first Spirit of Schlifer Award. This year, the Clinic is thrilled to announce our 12th Annual Spirit of Schlifer Award. This year’s recipients are Kirsten Mercer and Carla Neto.


Do you know a remarkable woman?

The nominee is selected based on her outstanding commitment to disrupting gender-based violence and supporting women and gender-diverse people, those who self-identify as “woman,” including cisgender, transgender, intersex, Two-Spirit and gender non-conforming folks, who want to build lives free from violence through increased access to justice and other systems. She is recognized for advocacy in the violence against women and gender-diverse people’s sector through her paid employment, community leadership or volunteer work. The successful candidate’s work will exemplify her understanding of the important intersections of gender, race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, geographic isolation/disadvantage, disability, and religious belief in building lives free from violence.

Nominate a Remarkable Woman for the 2025 Spirit of Barbra Schlifer Award

Please email us at [email protected] for more information.

2024 Award Winners

Kirsten Mercer, Partner, Goldblatt Partners

Kirsten is an intersectional feminist lawyer and advocate who brings decades of experience in the law, government and the non-profit sector to her legal practice and her work to end gender-based violence and harassment.  Kirsten works with individuals and organizations to advance women’s equality and human rights.  Kirsten is also committed to supporting accountability and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Kirsten began her career in the non-profit sector where she worked in Canada and globally on economic justice policy and human rights issues.  She obtained her law and graduate degrees and practiced litigation at a leading national firm.  Kirsten left her litigation practice to focus on legal and policy challenges in the public sector, serving as  Senior Advisor to the Premier of Ontario and Chief of Staff to the Attorney General of Canada.  Kirsten was then appointed to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal where mediated and adjudicated human rights complaints.

As one of the policy architects of the 2015 Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan, Kirsten worked closely with advocates, government officials, elected leaders to launch an historic set of legislative changes, policy developments, an award-winning media campaign and a broad-reaching $41 million dollar investment in the GBV sector.  At both the provincial and federal levels, Kirsten played a leadership role in governmental response to the injustice of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

More recently, Kirsten has represented individuals and organizations in the GBV sector before all levels of court in Ontario. In 2022, Kirsten was counsel to Ending Violence Against Women (EVA) Renfrew County at the Coroner’s Inquest in to the femicides of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam.  Kirsten has also been actively engaged in providing leadership and strategic advice to the campaign for implementation of the CKW Inquest recommendations.

In addition to her advocacy for change in legislative and policy landscape to eradicate gender-based violence, Kirsten also has an active legal practice representing clients with human rights, civil claims, employment matters and other workplace complaints at a leading union-side labour law firm.  Since representing Luke’s Place and the Barbra Schlifer Clinic as co-intervenors at the Ontario Court of Appeal in defence of the recognition of a new tort of family violence in Ahluwalia v. Ahluwalia, Kirsten has advised clients involved in family law proceedings about how they might use the Ahluwalia decision to advance civil claims.


Kirsten is a partner in the litigation group at Goldblatt Partners LLP, and lives in Toronto with her partner, Matthew and their two children, Sam and Noah.

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Carla Neto, Executive Director of Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke

Carla Neto is currently the Executive Director of Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke a position she holds since October 2021. She holds a certificate for Public Sector Executive Leadership Program from Smith School of Business & the Veronica Lacey and Associates. Her work experience, combined with her Bachelor of Social Work from the Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) intersectional feminist lens, anti-racist/anti-oppressive, trauma-informed and harm reduction principles, made her a good fit for this role. She is a mother of 3 and a grandmother of 2 boys. She is the recipient of the Ontario Government’s 2023 Black Heritage 365 Award. On her spare time, she supports capacity building in her Share Knowledge Consulting firm.

Carla’s work in the anti-violence against women sector spans over 30 years where she has held many positions that included frontline (women’s counselor, child and youth, legal worker and housing worker) and management.  Prior to coming to Women’s Habitat, Carla managed the YWCA Toronto Women’s Shelter and Transitional Housing and Support Program for over 10 years.

Carla believes that service delivery must support capacity, resiliency building and sustainability for the women and their dependents seeking services as well as be in alignment with strategies to end gender-based violence. Under Carla’s leadership, the Women’s Habitat Outreach Centre enhanced and delivered programs that focus on skill building and housing readiness as well as prevention-focused programing for boys and young men.

Carla is a transformational leader with effective problem-solving abilities and a mentor with the ability to build strong and creative teams by fostering a culture of collaboration, diversity and inclusion.  Carla is a strategic and caring leader, who is well loved by her staff, and respected for her ability to make good decisions that balance organizational goals with the needs of those she serves and leads. She has also been instrumental in landing the organization’s ARAO and inclusion policies. Carla has demonstrated the ability to rebuild a strong organizational culture that values equity, and which will help Women’s Habitat attract and retain the talent it needs to take the organization to the next level.

Over the years Carla has established strong sector network relationships, which has unequivocally raised the organization’s profile externally. Carla is the co-chair of the Toronto Region Anti-Violence Against Women’s Coordinating Committee (Anti-VAWCC), the Co-Chair of the Toronto’s Housing Secretariat’s Housing Pathways for Women and Gender Diverse People Group, and a member of a number of Women’s Sector networks.

Carla is an avid advocate for women’s rights and social equity. In 2023, under her leadership, Women’s Habitat partnered with Aura Freedom International in bringing an urgent call to action to have the City declare IPV an epidemic, which City Council passed unanimously. She continues to lead Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke in advocating for, and seeking solutions for safe and affordable housing for women and their dependents impacted by gender-based violence.

2023 Award Winners

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Dr. Wendy Cukier, Founder & Academic Director, Ted Rogers School of Management’s Diversity Institute

For more than 30 years, Dr. Wendy Cukier has been a leading advocate for women, solutions to gender-based violence and the path to a more inclusive economy.

She is the Founder and Academic Director of the Ted Rogers School of Management’s Diversity Institute, where her work focuses on exploring discrimination, hate and violence against under-represented groups as well as strategies to promote inclusion. Dr. Cukier also leads the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub and is both a professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at the Ted Rogers School of Management and the Research Lead for the Future Skills Centre.

In response to the Montreal Massacre in 1989, Dr Cukier co-founded the Coalition for Gun Control, which has grown to include a network of more than 200 organizations across Canada. Under her leadership, the Coalition was instrumental in establishing the United Nations-supported International Action Network on Small Arms, which is active in global efforts to combat trafficking and misuse of firearms, with a focus on gender-based violence.

Her advocacy and leadership have earned her many awards, including one of Canada’s highest civilian honours, the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross. Additional recognition includes a YWCA Women of Distinction Award, the Harry Jerome Diversity Award, and the Community Builder Award from the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. She has also been named to such lists as the University of Toronto’s 100 Alumni Who Shaped the Century, The 100 Most Powerful Women by WXN, the International Women’s Forum Women Who Make a Difference, and 25 Transformational Canadians, among others. She is a bestselling book author including a co-author with Dr. Vic. Sidel, past president of the American Public Health Association, The Global Gun Epidemic, and articles on gender-related gun violence and its prevention, and on an inclusive innovation economy. Dr Cukier holds a PhD, an MBA, an MA and honorary doctorates from Laval and Concordia Universities.

Oyeyinka Oyelowo, Lawyer & Founder, Yinka Law


Oyeyinka Oyelowo is a lawyer and the founder of Yinka Law, a civil litigation law firm dedicated to excellent advocacy in tribunals and courts, eradicating anti-Black racism and advancing equality rights. She has a strong commitment to the rights of working people, and a robust understanding of criminal law, administrative law, employment, and labour law. She has contributed to the eradication of anti-Black racism through leading human rights training, engaging in human rights advocacy in private practice, and with pro-bono Ontario initiatives, and by providing mentorship opportunities to BIPOC students seeking to eradicate racism.

Oyeyinka Oyelowo is the Board Director for the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace – an UNESCO accredited United Nations group focused on advancing women’s rights, climate justice and peace initiatives around the world. By representing clients using human rights laws and litigation, Yinka Law works to eradicate human rights violations by educating individuals about how to understand the law and navigate the court system. Our mission is to ensure access to justice through education about how human rights laws affect our past, present, and future.

Ms. Oyelowo typically collaborates with international civil society organizations to teach courses related to human rights and international law. For example, Yinka Law worked with the Ontario Justice Education Program to deliver human rights training in the Together 180 program. The event occurred in May of 2022, and there were over 15 young people in attendance. Yinka Law has collaborated with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Toronto in April of 2022 to deliver feminist and anti-racism programming to over 500 individuals in attendance.

Ms. Oyelowo was nominated as one of Canada’s Most Influential Lawyers in the field of Human Rights law in the year 2021 and 2023. Her clients have consistently heralded her as a strong advocate with unparalleled results protecting her clients’ best interests. Ms. Oyelowo provides sophisticated, efficient, and poised legal services that produce excellent results and help marginalized clients access justice regardless of their sex, race, or economic background. Ms. Oyelowo is also the founder of Alagbara Media Inc., and a co-creator of “Safe Spaces” a documentary series that questions whether psychological and/or physical spaces can be created to protect vulnerable groups, such as women experiencing poverty and/or homelessness from violence.

Ms. Oyelowo provides legal services to individuals who are from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds, specifically regarding limited financial resources, for them to pursue litigation, higher education, and mental health support.

Yinka Law is technologically innovative which makes the organization a permissionless provider of workplace harassment and sexual harassment education relating to human rights law and criminal law. By adopting a model of collaboration with like-minded organizations, Yinka Law has created a model for educating young people and organizations that does not require regulators or an approved statutory structure. The use of art therapy, for example, to teach complex topics such as human rights law and criminal law is permissionless because it transcends the dominant mode of teaching individuals about how the law has an immense effect on their lives. Oyeyinka Oyelowo founded Yinka Law, a law firm that began providing legal services to individuals experiencing human rights violations on the basis of their ethnicity, race, ancestry, skin colour and/or country of origin in February of 2021. Her contributions to eradicating discrimination and harassment in employment, services and housing began with her work as a Legal Leadership program officer with the Ontario Justice Education Network in 2017 and as the Special Programs. Oyeyinka Oyelowo has provided criminal law legal services, employment law services, labour law services and human rights services to Black communities living across Ontario since May of 2016. Oyeyinka Oyelowo describes outstanding as bringing together leading institutions and individuals from the legal and education sectors to collaborate on initiatives designed to foster student’s understanding of the justice system.

Previous Award Winners

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Lise Martin, Executive Director, Women's Shelters Canada 2022

Lise Martin is the founding Executive Director of Women’s Shelters Canada, an organization that provides a unified voice for systemic change to end violence against women while providing leadership for collaboration and knowledge exchange among shelters and transition houses across the country. Prior to joining WSC, she was the Executive Director of Women’s World 2011, an international feminist conference that hosted more than 2,000 participants from 92 countries in Ottawa in July 2011. For many years, Lise was with the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), first as a Research Officer and then as Executive Director. Lise is also a founding member of FAFIA, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action. She is the proud mother of three sons.

Dr. Jennifer Kagan, Physician & Advocate for Domestic Violence Survivors 2022

Jennifer Kagan is a passionate advocate against gender-based violence in all its forms. As a physician, Jennifer brings her clinical experience to the table when assisting women and children who have been subjected to domestic violence and coercive control.   

Jennifer graduated from McMaster University Medical School in 2009 and pursued post-graduate programs in Family Medicine and Palliative Care. She has worked in an urban acute care setting as a Palliative Care physician where many of the patients she cared for were from vulnerable and marginalized populations who experienced deep and pervasive systemic racism and discrimination.

Learn more about Jennifer and her work

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Abi Ajibolade, Executive Director, The Redwood 2021

Abi Ajibolade is the Executive Director of The Redwood. She is an attorney called to the Nigerian Bar and has a Certificate of Qualification from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, National Committee on Accreditation after completion of Law School exams as part of the Canadian requalification process. For the last 20 years, she has worked as a popular facilitator and social justice advocate. She has dedicated most of her community work to empowering young people and women.

Christa Big Canoe, Legal Director, Aboriginal Legal Services 2021

Christa Big Canoe is an Anishinabek woman, mother, and lawyer. She is from Georgina Island First Nation. She has been the Legal Director of Aboriginal Legal Services since 2011. She took a 2.5 year leave of absence to be senior and then Lead Commission Counsel to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Christa has been before all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada; represents families at Inquests; and has been before various tribunals providing Indigenous perspective and representation.

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Elaine Craig (left), 2019

Elaine Craig is an Associate Professor of Law at Dalhousie University.  Through her impeccable research, advocacy and academic writing, including her most recent publication,  Putting Trials on Trial: Sexual Assault and the Failure of the Legal Profession, she has redefined the ethical obligations of defence counsel in sexual assault trials.

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Sunny Marriner (right), 2019

Sunny Marriner’s career spans more than 20 years of leadership in law reform for criminal justice treatment of sexual assault.  Among her most significant accomplishments is the implementation of the Philadelphia Model of Violence Against Women (VAW) Advocate Case Review to ensure thorough police investigations and accountability,  for which Sunny is recognized as the Canadian expert.

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Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard

Dr. Dawn Lavell Harvard, is a proud member of the Wikwemikong First Nation, the first Aboriginal Trudeau Scholar, and has worked to advance the rights of Aboriginal women as the President of the Ontario Native Women’s Association since she was first elected in 2003. Dawn has been the Director for First Peoples House of Learning at Trent University since 2016.

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Loly Rico, 2017

Loly Rico is the president of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She is married to Francisco Rico-Martinez, with whom she co-directs the Toronto -based Faithful Companions of Jesus Refugee Centre. Rico and her family moved to Canada as refugees in 1990 in order to escape political repression in El Salvador.

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Leilani Farha, 2013

Leilani Farha is a Canadian lawyer who is the Global Director of THE SHIFT, a housing initiative. Between June 2014 and April 2020, she was the United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing.

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Geri Sanson, 2014

Founder and former Chair of the Association of Human Rights Lawyers, Geri Sanson’s exceptional work as a lawyer led directly to the establishment of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, which has increased women’s safety in relationships.

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Deepa Mattoo, 2015

Deepa Mattoo is the executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. Previously, she was the Clinic’s director of legal services. Before joining the Schlifer Clinic, Deepa was the project co-ordinator, staff lawyer and executive director at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

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Fay Faraday, 2016

Fay Faraday is a social justice lawyer, policy consultant and academic who brings more than two decades’ experience fighting for decent work and decent lives through litigation, strategic advice, advocacy, policy/law reform, and community organizing. She joined the Osgoode faculty as an Assistant Professor in 2018. 

The Spirit of Schlifer campaign began in 2020  amid the COVID-19 pandemic to fund our essential services and bring together past and present supporters of the Clinic. Today, almost one year later, the Clinic’s top priority continues to be ensuring the health and safety of our clients, staff and volunteers. As an essential service we are committed to keeping our doors open, physical, and virtually, to women and gender diverse people who need our help.