FREDERICTON (GNB) – Lorraine Silliphant of Fredericton and Ralph Thomas of Saint John have been recognized for their human rights work by the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.

Silliphant, a disability advocate, received the New Brunswick Pioneer of Human Rights Award, while Thomas, a businessman and community activist from Saint John, received the 2012 New Brunswick Human Rights Award.

"Lorraine and Ralph are excellent examples who prove that individuals can make a difference," said Randy Dickinson, commission chair. "New Brunswick has been fortunate in having such dedicated people working to advance human rights in our province. They complement the work that we are doing at the human rights commission."

Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas and Dickinson presented the awards at a ceremony attended by about 60 people at Government House in Fredericton on Sept. 11.

Silliphant received the Pioneer of Human Rights Award for her work during 40 years on behalf of community living and inclusive education movements for youths and adults with intellectual disabilities. She started as an advocate for her son, Ralph, who has Down syndrome, becoming an advocate for all New Brunswickers with an intellectual or other disability.

She worked to have disability listed as a prohibited ground of discrimination when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted in 1982. She led efforts for institutionalized children to be moved into their communities and into regular classrooms; and to have early intervention and parental support provided for children with disabilities.

Silliphant also advocated so that adults with an intellectual disability may live at home and be employed. She helped develop the self-advocacy movement for people with an intellectual disability, and she advocated for progressive public policies supporting inclusion.

Silliphant was the executive director for New Brunswick during the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981-82. She has held several positions with the Association for Community Living at the provincial and national levels, and she was a founding member of Jobs Unlimited. She has chaired the Planning Advisory Committee on Community Services for the Disabled and has been a member of the Minister's Advisory Committee for the Family. She is the former chair of the Roeher Institute and a director of the Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society.

"I am honoured to have been nominated," said Silliphant. "I am also extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of some people. Those people have inspired and motivated me, people who have a disability, and families that struggle every day just to lead ordinary lives, lives that others take for granted. I honour them and thank them for what they have taught me.

"I also salute the many dedicated people who advocate for change in law and for policies and programs that support acceptance and inclusion and that make a difference in people's lives. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with them."

Thomas received this year’s human rights award for his achievement and leadership in promoting equal social and economic opportunities for women and for visible and multicultural minorities in New Brunswick.

Since 1997, Thomas has been president of PRUDE Inc. (Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education), an advocacy and service group for black, ethnic and newcomer communities in Saint John.

Thomas led PRUDE to expand its mandate to include visible and multicultural minorities and newcomers and to mitigate the barriers faced by women from these communities. He championed an awareness program to challenge racial and ethnic stereotypes among youth, and he developed partnerships with former school district 8 and multicultural groups.

Thomas was recognized for his qualities as leader, adviser, negotiator, teacher, mentor, role model and motivator. He is known for his positive attitude, compassion and quiet strength, speaking with passion and conviction and leading by example.

Thomas was a founding member of the New Brunswick Black History Society and is on the board of the Kings Landing Historical Settlement.

Thomas is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, the YMCA Peace Medal and the Toastmasters Communications and Leadership Award. He was a commission member from 1996 to 2000.

He is a well-known boxer who has been inducted in a number of sports halls of fame. He has received the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame Integrity Award.

"I am honoured that such a prestigious award would be given to me," said Thomas. "I always strive to be positive and to move forward. So, I will continue to push for justice for everyone and to defend the rights of all people."

The commission established the New Brunswick Human Rights Award in 1988 to recognize outstanding effort, achievement and leadership on a volunteer basis in the promotion of human rights and equality in New Brunswick. It is presented each year around New Brunswick Human Rights Day, Sept. 15.

The award is a wood sculpture on display at Government House; the names of award recipients are listed on its base.

Both recipients received a framed certificate and a pewter lapel pin that represents the award. Last year's human rights award recipient was Émilienne Basque of Tracadie-Sheila. More information about the award is on the commissions' website.

The commission presents the New Brunswick Pioneer of Human Rights Award to recognize pioneers in the protection and promotion of human rights for their historic contributions to human rights in Canada. It was first presented in 2002 to Senate speaker Noël A. Kinsella; Gordon Fairweather; former premier Louis J. Robichaud; and the Asper Foundation. The most recent recipient was Brent Hawkes, a Woodstock native who now lives in Toronto. He received the award in 2009 for his work promoting the rights of advancing equal rights for gays and same-sex couples.