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Mark Gruchy, Gemma Hickey named Human Rights Award winners

Lawyer Mark Gruchy and activist Gemma Hickey listen to Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission director Remzi Cej as he speaks about the Human Rights Award during a ceremony at Government House in St. John’s Thursday afternoon. Gruchy was named winner of the award, while Hickey was named Human Rights Champion.
Lawyer Mark Gruchy and activist Gemma Hickey listen to Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission director Remzi Cej as he speaks about the Human Rights Award during a ceremony at Government House in St. John’s Thursday afternoon. Gruchy was named winner of the award, while Hickey was named Human Rights Champion.

Neither considered themselves exceptionally deserving, but both Mark Gruchy and Gemma Hickey proved they were worthy of Human Rights Awards when they were named winners during a ceremony at Government House Thursday afternoon.

Gruchy won the 2016 Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Award, while Hickey was named the 2016 Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Champion.

Gruchy is a St. John’s laywer and chairman of the provincial division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, as well as a member of the Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Council. He was recognized with the award for his continued commitment to mental-health awareness and his action when it comes to making mental-health issues a provincial priority.

Gruchy regularly puts a personal perspective on mental-health issues, speaking often about his own journey with bipolar disorder.

“I started doing what I was doing, contrary to the advice of people who felt that it would be a bad professional decision, because I had to,” Gruchy said in his acceptance speech. “If I didn’t do it, I would be running away from who I was and the issues … that I had, and I know what happens when people with bipolar disorder do that. They end up getting themselves in holes they have difficulty getting out of.”

He’s not the only successful lawyer living with bipolar disorder, he told the crowd. There are many who keep quiet for fear of being judged.

“I hope I have started, or at least assisted along, in lowering that reality a little bit, to the point that more people can come out and be open,” Gruchy said.

Hickey is a longtime advocate of many causes, particularly known for co-leading the movement that legalized same-sex marriage in this province and for founding Pathways, an organization offering support to those who have experienced abuse by clergy members. In 2014, Hickey, who is the executive director of For the Love of Learning, walked across the island to raise awareness and support for the cause.

“I do consider it a privilege to be awarded the title of human rights champion by this glorious province, the place of my birth, but instead of being singled out as a champion, I’d rather refer to myself as part of a championship team,” Hickey said, acknowledging the other award nominees. “Let’s keep knocking it out of the ballpark.

“I can’t rewrite the stories I heard on the road, but together I know we can change how they end. By standing up and speaking out, we add our voices to the choir and I truly believe that someday we’ll find a way to get our hearts in tune with our voices.”

The Human Rights Award came with a striking soapstone sculpture by Labrador Inuit carver Wilson Semigak, currently an inmate at the Labrador Correctional Centre who will be released early next week.

Remzi Cej, chairman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission, read Semigak’s artist statement, in which he spoke of learning to carve as a child. The sculpture Semigak created for the award, titled “Hear Me” in English, depicts a mother with a child on her back, her lips sewn shut.

“It represents the Inuit residential school survivors who attended school in Northwest River and St. John’s,” Semigak wrote. “We, the Inuit, did not have a say over what the government decided for us, and we never saw what was coming.

“The Inuit are known to be quiet people, but we can only stay quiet for so long. The government had their say and now it is our turn.”

Other nominees for this year’s Human Rights Award were Sarah Anala, Justin Brake, Lorraine Hearn, Bryan Johnson, Sheldon Pollett and Kyle Rees.

 

tbradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Gruchy won the 2016 Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Award, while Hickey was named the 2016 Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Champion.

Gruchy is a St. John’s laywer and chairman of the provincial division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, as well as a member of the Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Council. He was recognized with the award for his continued commitment to mental-health awareness and his action when it comes to making mental-health issues a provincial priority.

Gruchy regularly puts a personal perspective on mental-health issues, speaking often about his own journey with bipolar disorder.

“I started doing what I was doing, contrary to the advice of people who felt that it would be a bad professional decision, because I had to,” Gruchy said in his acceptance speech. “If I didn’t do it, I would be running away from who I was and the issues … that I had, and I know what happens when people with bipolar disorder do that. They end up getting themselves in holes they have difficulty getting out of.”

He’s not the only successful lawyer living with bipolar disorder, he told the crowd. There are many who keep quiet for fear of being judged.

“I hope I have started, or at least assisted along, in lowering that reality a little bit, to the point that more people can come out and be open,” Gruchy said.

Hickey is a longtime advocate of many causes, particularly known for co-leading the movement that legalized same-sex marriage in this province and for founding Pathways, an organization offering support to those who have experienced abuse by clergy members. In 2014, Hickey, who is the executive director of For the Love of Learning, walked across the island to raise awareness and support for the cause.

“I do consider it a privilege to be awarded the title of human rights champion by this glorious province, the place of my birth, but instead of being singled out as a champion, I’d rather refer to myself as part of a championship team,” Hickey said, acknowledging the other award nominees. “Let’s keep knocking it out of the ballpark.

“I can’t rewrite the stories I heard on the road, but together I know we can change how they end. By standing up and speaking out, we add our voices to the choir and I truly believe that someday we’ll find a way to get our hearts in tune with our voices.”

The Human Rights Award came with a striking soapstone sculpture by Labrador Inuit carver Wilson Semigak, currently an inmate at the Labrador Correctional Centre who will be released early next week.

Remzi Cej, chairman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission, read Semigak’s artist statement, in which he spoke of learning to carve as a child. The sculpture Semigak created for the award, titled “Hear Me” in English, depicts a mother with a child on her back, her lips sewn shut.

“It represents the Inuit residential school survivors who attended school in Northwest River and St. John’s,” Semigak wrote. “We, the Inuit, did not have a say over what the government decided for us, and we never saw what was coming.

“The Inuit are known to be quiet people, but we can only stay quiet for so long. The government had their say and now it is our turn.”

Other nominees for this year’s Human Rights Award were Sarah Anala, Justin Brake, Lorraine Hearn, Bryan Johnson, Sheldon Pollett and Kyle Rees.

 

tbradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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