Sept. 16, 2003
FREDERICTON (CNB) -- The 2003 New Brunswick Human Rights Award was presented to Eugène LeBlanc of Memramcook on Sunday, Sept. 14 at Old Government House in Fredericton.
He was conferred the award by the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission for his work creating social and vocational opportunities for persons who have a mental illness as well as promoting public awareness of mental health/illness issues and respect for persons with a mental disability.
Eugène LeBlanc of Memramcook, recipient of the 2003 New Brunswick Human Rights Award. (Large photo.)
The graceful walnut and maple sculpture that represents the award had pride of place in the large elegant room where about 70 relatives, dignitaries and mental health activists had gathered to witness the presentation.
Lt.-Gov. Herménégilde Chiasson welcomed the audience to his home for an event that he described as a day of remembrance for men and women who had shaped the Province, sometimes struggling in silence, clearing hurdles that many others were not even aware existed.
In his address, Dr. Patrick Malcolmson, Chair of the Human Rights Commission, pointed out that discrimination based on disability now accounts for 42% of complaints filed with the Commission. He said that business and government are obligated, both morally and legally, to accommodate disabled persons up to the point of undue hardship.
"The law does not simply require that people be treated the same," Malcolmson said. "It requires that people be treated fairly, which is somewhat different."
Provincial Minister of Justice and Attorney General Bradley Green mentioned that human rights had many dimensions, one of which was economic.
"New Brunswick's prosperity depends largely on our capacity to fully maximise the potential of our labour force," he said. "We must continue our strong commitment to remove barriers to work and to provide equal opportunities to all in order to ensure our generation, and those that follow us, can live in prosperity."
From left: Attorney General and Justice Minister Bradley Green; Lt.-Gov. Herménégilde Chiasson; recipient Eugène LeBlanc; N.B. Human Rights Commission Chair Dr. Patrick Malcolmson; and Commission Director Janet Cullinan. (Large photo.)
LeBlanc had been nominated by Kenneth Ross, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness. Ross lauded Leblanc's clear, intelligent and benevolent advice and his role in founding a client-run activity centre for people with a mental illness in Dieppe, as well as the Our Voice / Notre Voix newspaper.
"Our Voice / Notre Voix is about consumer empowerment," Ross said. "The stories, articles, poems and letters are insightful, sometimes expressing anger and frustration, but always a reflection of the experiences of persons living with a mental illness."
In his acceptance speech, LeBlanc spoke eloquently about the needs of persons with a mental illness.
"If there is one thing that I have observed in the last 16 years among those having long-term mental illnesses, if there is one thing that most have in common, it is the sense of lack of power and control over their own lives and a feeling of utter disconnectedness with the community," he said.
"Sad to say but true, too many live their entire lives without having a real friend in this world. Think about that for a moment. They long to belong, but don't seem to know how to access society, which often puts walls and barriers in their faces."
LeBlanc mentioned that an estimated 2000 New Brunswickers currently participate in a network of 24 client-run activity centres and other initiatives designed to allow persons with a mental illness to have a social life. These centres are micro-societies where they can be themselves. He implored the government to increase its financial support for these centres, to which many owe their sanity, and some even their lives.
He also said that people who have a mental illness are living in excruciating poverty. According to a recent provincial survey, their average income is about $800 per month for an individual.
"I know many people who live on $3 per day or less for their social life. What would you do with $3 a day? Do you think it would have a bearing on your mental health? Do you see the connection that I'm trying to make?"
LeBlanc said that mental illness should not be addressed exclusively through clinical services. He favored a global perspective that ensured that all the components of mental health were put in place, including employment without exploitative wages, adequate income, sane and safe housing, a social life and accessible education.
The ceremony was presided by Jean-Claude Jalbert, a member of the Human Rights Commission.
The Human Rights Award was established by the Human Rights Commission in 1988 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The award ceremony is held around New Brunswick Human Rights Day, Sept. 15. Last year's recipient was the Multicultural Association of Fredericton.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information please see: http://www.gnb.ca/hrc-cdp/e/award03.htm. MEDIA CONTACTS: Eugène LeBlanc, award recipient, 506-857-1340 (Monday - Friday 1 - 4 p.m.; Wednesday 6 - 8 p.m.); Dr. Patrick Malcolmson, Chair, New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, Fredericton, 506-453-2301.