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

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

file photo
Maskwacis RCMP investigate pedestrian fatality

Collision on Highway 2A causing fatality still under investigation.

Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer
City of Wetaskiwin cases rapidly climbing

City of Wetaskiwin reporting 11 active cases of COVID-19

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Sharon Hickin, general manager of the Days Inn Sylvan Lake and the new Lake House Diner, poses for a photo outside the new restaurant. Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
Pandemic puts extra hurdles in place for new Sylvan Lake businesses

Over the past seven months numerous new businesses have opened in Sylvan Lake, despite the pandemic

Rachel Notley, leader of Alberta’s official Opposition, speaks in Edmonton on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Notley says the government needs to sharply ramp up the number of contact tracers if it wants to get a handle on the rising number of COVID-19 cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Opposition calls for more COVID-19 contact tracers as case numbers rise

Alberta has about 800 tracers, and chief medical health officer Dr. Hinshaw says more are being recruited

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. Hospital and health-care workers who staged a one-day illegal walkout returned to work Tuesday while politicians swapped recriminations and accusations in the house over the dispute. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta health staff return to work, surgeries resume after one-day walkout

AHS estimated 157 non-emergency surgeries, most of them in Edmonton, had to be postponed as a result of the walkout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to provide an update on the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Canada has reached a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 10,000 novel coronavirus deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta COVID deaths pushes Canada past milestone of 10,000 deaths

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first was reported

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Most Read