Call me crazy but this has felt like the Summer of Love here in Toronto, Canada. Maybe it’s something in the water which has caused such an outpouring of empathy and action, or maybe the Age of Compassion is really underway. What I can say for sure is that my city has been filled with events, fundraisers, potlucks, protests and art, many of these with the goal of furthering animal rights and veganism. I speak for many when I say that this fills us with hope, a sense of community and a cause for celebration.
Celebrate, we did. On August 8th, 2011 Canada saw its first annual Canadian Empathy Awards. The event was organized by Empathy Unlimited Co-Founders Shannon Kornelsen and Joseph Pace. The goal of the event, says Joseph, was to “celebrate and honour some of the most diligent and courageous Canadians working to improve the lives of animals our society so often overlooks. All too often, these deeply empathic individuals are forced to work on behalf of animals with little support, extremely limited funding, and little to no recognition. With each passing day, more and more people are living and speaking out on behalf of animals, uniting with others who share their passion to make their collective voice as loud and strong as possible. The days of the apologetic vegan are over, and as of today, so are the days of the uncelebrated animal defender.”
The event was thrilling and a far cry from what society typically turns its attention towards: film stars, entertainment and consumerism. Gene Baur was the keynote speaker of the evening, as part of Farm Sanctuary’s 25th Anniversary Celebration Tour and awards were given to caring Canadians who strive for change in the categories of Athleticism, Law, Arts, Activism, Journalism and Politics. I’d like to share and celebrate with you the accomplishments of the nominees. I’m doing so because celebrating compassion CULTIVATES compassion.
Georges Laraque – Athlete Award: A veteran of the NHL who now focuses on humanitarian work, is a deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada, a spokesperson for PETA and co-owns two raw vegan restaurants in Montreal, Canada.
Lesli Bisgould – Law Award: The only animal rights lawyer in Canada, also teaching animal rights law at the University of Toronto and completing a reference book to help law students and practitioners think about animal rights in legal issues.
Jo-Anne McArthur (me) – Arts Award: (Strange introducing myself!) The award-winning photojournalist of the We Animals project, who has been documenting our uses, abuses and sharing of spaces with non-human animals around the globe for a decade.
Rebecca Aldworth – Activism Award: The Executive Director of the Humane Society International/Canada, who has witnessed the Canadian seal hunt for 13 years and has been instrumental in the EU prohibition of seal products. Her work has spared the lives of over 850,000 baby seals in the past three years alone.
Rabble.ca – Journalism Award: A not-for-profit online media site, publishing progressive and original news, features, interviews and commentaries, frequently publishing cutting-edge articles about veganism and animal rights issues.
Kristyn Wong-Tam and Glenn De Baeremaeker – Politics Award: Toronto city councillors who recently introduced a motion to ban the sale of shark fin products. They are also strong advocates of local animal issues such as moving the Toronto Zoo elephants to a sanctuary and banning the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.
The Empathy Unlimited event will grow in popularity each year, as did a similar awards event in the USA, the Genesis Awards, which honours those (from the entertainment industry) who work to educate and improve the lives of animals. Those who act in the role of animal advocates, says Joseph Pace, are “perhaps the least appreciated and least rewarded. Why? Because the animals they seek to protect can’t buy things, can’t vote, and worst of all, have unwillingly become part of a massive, profit-driven machine that actually benefits from their suffering. To be an animal defender means having the courage to stand against what the majority of everyone they know considers okay or at least necessary, if they consider it at all. In other words, being an animal defender means being isolated.”
We all need to celebrate each others’ empathy and our actions to improve the lives of animals. This joy feeds our souls and gives activists and concerned citizens the courage, strength and energy which is so vital in continuing this work in a less isolated way. So, here, I raise a glass to the celebration of empathy, action and the building of community. And to vegan summer potlucks!
Empathy Awards Image Source: Jo-Anne McArthur