Sociologist among $100K Killam Prize winners for work on health-care inequities

Sociologist among $100K Killam Prize winners for work on health-care inequities

A sociologist whose work with marginalized communities has made her one of Canada’s leading women’s health advocates is among this year’s winners of the $100,000 Killam Prize.

The Canada Council for the Arts recognized five scholars from across the country Tuesday for outstanding contributions to the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences and engineering.

Cecilia Benoit, a sociology professor and scientist at the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, is being honoured for her research on the health inequities faced by marginalized communities, including at-risk Indigenous women, sex workers, street-involved youth and mothers dealing with addiction.

In an interview, Benoit said these health-care disparities have become even more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some of the most vulnerable members of society struggling to access medical resources and financial benefits.

Canadian lawmakers need to fill in these gaps, or they could see cases of the novel coronavirus resurge in the months ahead, said Benoit.

“We have to improve the life situation and access to resources … for the most marginalized, because they’re the most susceptible to be exposed to this illness and then have the most difficulty dealing with it.”

Benoit, who hails from Newfoundland and Labrador and has Mi’kmaq and French ancestry, has spent 30 years building connections with community groups across Canada as part of a “bottom-up” approach to addressing issues in women’s health care.

In recent years, Benoit said she’s been working to “empower” sex workers with skills they can use to improve conditions on the ground, rather than her telling them what to do.

She’s been a vocal critic of parts of Canada’s prostitution law that criminalize purchase of sex and communication for that purpose.

Benoit has also pushed for midwifery to be legally recognized and publicly funded across Canada.

She hopes that the Killam Prize will amplify her voice so she can continue to speak up for the needs of people who often go unheard.

“I never would have ever expected to receive (the Killam), and especially because it does recognize these groups in our society that are invisible are undervalued,” said Benoit.

“With good useful knowledge and with progressive policy, we actually can reduce (stigma) and improve the lives of people or change laws. It just brings a lot of joy to me, so I want to do that work as long as I can.”

Other Killam Prize recipients include McGill University neuroscientist Alan Evans for his leading work in modelling brain networks and University of Toronto professor Edward Sargent for his pioneering contributions to nanotechnology.

University of Alberta professor Sarah Carter is being recognized for her writings on Western Canada’s colonial and Indigenous history, while the University of Toronto’s Barbara Sherwood Lollar is commended for her influential research on planetary geology.

Winners are chosen by a committee of their peers. Previous winners include Victoria Kaspi, Mark Wainberg and Nobel Prize winner Arthur McDonald.

The Killam program also announced recipients of its research fellowships, which dole out a collective $840,000 over two years to six scholars for independent research projects.

This year’s recipients include: Eric Brown of McMaster University for a project called “A fresh approach to antibacterial drug discovery for drug-resistant infections”; Jennifer Clapp of the University of Waterloo for ”The Rise of Agrifood Mega-Companies: Implications for the Global Food System”; Myriam Denov of McGill University for “Born of War: The Perspectives, Realities, and Needs of Children Born of Wartime Rape”; Joseph Heath of the University of Toronto for ”How to criticize society”; Milica Radisic of the University of Toronto for “Heart-on-a-chip delivers on the promise of personalized medicine”; and Nathalie Tufenkji of McGill for “Impacts of plastic pollution in northern climates.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2020.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

100 Women Who Care make a donation to Sylvan Lake Food Bank and Bethany Care Centre. Photo By Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
100 Women Who Care donate to four Sylvan Lake groups

The Food Bank, Bethany Sylvan Lake, Community Partners and the Library all received a donation

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Ryen Williams, 11, with a lost miniature horse at JJ Collett Oct. 23. Photo by Don Williams
UPDATE: Owners found

Father and son found him while out for a walk at JJ Collett

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner, left to right, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrive to hold a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No-confidence showdown over sweeping Tory motion on government handling of pandemic

The Conservative motion is to be put to a vote Monday and has the support of both the Bloc Québécois and NDP

Most Read