CanRoots 2017 Speakers



Zanana Akande has worked towards social justice in our society by addressing education, communications and the media, feminism, race relations and social change. She has worked as a teacher, consultant, and administrator in the public education system, and a lecturer at the university level. She continues to speak on issues of effective communication, social change, community development and diversity, a topic she has presented locally and abroad. Zanana has worked in the media with MTV, and was the co-founder of Tiger Lily, a magazine giving voice to the perspectives of women of colour. One of a partnership of five to win the license for a radio station in 2000, Zanana served as a director of Milestone Media Inc. Elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1990, she was appointed Minister of Community and Social Services, thus becoming the first Black woman to hold a cabinet position in Canada. She also served as Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier. In that role she was responsible for the implementation of “jobsOntarioyouth” which provided thousands of jobs to youth across Ontario for four consecutive summers.

Donna_Ashamock.JPGDonna Ashamock As a practitioner with over twenty years of experience organizing innovative programs and managing collaborative projects in Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario, I continue to learn from family, colleagues and mentors, especially those dear who have passed on and whose teachings sustain my passion and commitment to help rebuild self-determining communities and sovereign Indigenous Nations.  Home as an Eeyou “Cree” person, is the James Bay region, where I raised my stepchildren and nieces to participate in many land-based cultural practices. My cumulative experience as a community organizer and facilitator helped me to realize the importance of the Cree worldview, identity, and of place being central to the empowerment of our collective role and response to making generations of people whole again. My work for the past several years in the college system and non-profits has been an enriching opportunity developing leadership in many Indigenous communities. 

Mike Balkwill is a community organizer with more than thirty years’ experience. Mike organized campaigns to Stop the development of an incinerator for radioactive waste in Brampton Force the Peel Boards of education to deal with the problem of mold in school portables. Mike is currently an advisor to the Wellington Water Watchers on their campaign to stop Nestles from getting a water taking permit at the Middlebrook well. Mike volunteers as provincial organizer for the Put Food in the Budget campaign . Put Food in the budget is a grassroots campaign, to raise social assistance rates led by people who are poor. Mike also consults with non-profit organizations on community development.

16650697_1581670781844836_1101301903_o.jpgSuleman Basharat is a Rogers Centre food service worker. He was pivotal in the campaign to unionize the Trump Hotel in Toronto. He still works at both jobs and is on a leave of absence for further training as an organizer by Unite Here Local 75. 

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAV-AAAAJDJiOTBkYjViLTI4MmItNDk0Zi1iM2ZhLTNhZWI4ZGVmYjBjNQ.jpgMelissa Bayon has been a Union Organizer for over 12 years. She worked extensively in Canada and in the United States on developing grassroots rank and file leaders in workplaces. Lead campaigns to strengthen union locals and form unions in hotels, restaurants, casinos and in healthcare. She now works as Campaign Coordinator for the Ontario federation of labour (OFL). Melisa immigrated with her siblings and single mom from Argentina at a young age. Their struggles motivated her to fight for justice.

IMG_0098 (1).JPGSabrina Bowman has been involved in environmental advocacy since she was a starry-eyed teenager. She got bitten by the snowflake model when she first learned about Marshall Ganz in 2014 and was fortunate to train with him at his online Harvard course with organizers from around the world. Sabrina has spent a decade in the environmental not-for-profit sector, including at Ecology Ottawa, The Natural Step, Ottawa Riverkeeper, and Environmental Defence. She is currently the Executive Director of GreenPAC, an organization dedicated to building non-partisan environmental leaderships in politics. In her free time, she swing dances, cooks, spends time in the woods, and bikes year-round about the city.

 Jody Chan is an organizer with the Leap, and has been part of the climate justice movement in Toronto and New York. She is currently a board member of, and has been an organizing fellow with the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network.



Olivia Chow is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University and the founder of the Institute for Change Leaders, an organization with 30 trainers that teaches community and political organizing strategies.The Institute has taughtover 1600 people since March of 2015. For over thirty years, Olivia Chow has been an effective and well-known public figure, serving in Toronto’s municipal politics and on the national stage as a Member of Parliament. Canadian Immigrant magazine named her as one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants.  UFCW awarded her the Cesar E. Chavez Black Eagle Award for her work on migrants. Chow published a best selling memoir “My Journey” in 2014.  

Desmond Cole is a writer for the Toronto Star, and commentator on NewsTalk1010. His writing on race, policing, and politics have fundamentally changed how Torontonians and Canadians think about police accountability and policing reform.

Pam speaking.jpgPam Frache is an experienced organizer for labour and fairer employment laws. She currently works at the Workers’ Action Centre. She has organized for the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Fight for $15 and Fairness.


Michal Hay currently works as Chief of Staff to Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton, where she has the opportunity to delve into a wide range of policy issues and city-wide campaigns. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Broadbent Institute and The Urban Worker Project. In 2014 she was the Field Director for Olivia Chow's Toronto Mayoral Campaign and has helped to train candidates and activists on organizing. Through work and activism, Michal has had leading roles on a number of issue based and electoral campaigns at the municipal, provincial and federal levels across Canada.

Mohammed Hashim is a Senior Organizer for the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and is also a social justice advocate mainly focusing on issues affecting the Canadian Muslim community.  He has been a driving force behind much of the political and media advocacy work during the 2015 election and onwards. Mohammed has been involved in high profile campaigns including No Fly List Kids, racism at the York Region District School Board and overturning discriminatory practices at the Peel District School Board. His work in the media includes both crisis communications and political advocacy, and has been recognized by both the National Council for Canadian Muslims and the International Development and Relief Fund.

JenHassum headshot.jpgJennifer Hassam is a triple threat: a communicator, organizer and mom. Born and raised in Cambridge, Ontario. She cut her teeth coordinating target team communications in for Jack Layton’s breakthrough Federal campaign and has since been sought out for her work on targeted, efficient paid and digital media buys. Currently the head of New Media at the United Steelworkers in Canada, Jen is interested in new systems of worker organizing. Drawing on lessons from US voter contact methods, Jen experiments with microtargetting, online persuasion, data analysis and digital organizing. The wins are few but the victories for workers are life changing. Jen completed her Masters in History and pursued a Doctorate at York University. Her thesis investigated homefront culture and labour resistance in Canada during World War II. Never completing her PhD defense is one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

Sandy Hudson is a community organizer  who has spearheaded anti-racism and anti-violence initiatives. Sandy founded Black Lives Matter – Toronto in 2014. The organization is resolutely committed to Black liberation through a trans-feminist lens, and has secured victories across the province after two years of very public direct action strategies. As a result of some of her efforts, the province’s Special Investigations Unit is under review, the province committed to eliminating carding and changes are occurring at Pride Toronto to meet the needs of racialized, indigenous and disabled communities.  As a graduate student at the University of Toronto, she is also a co-founder of the Black Liberation Collective – Canada, a campus-based extension of the Black Lives Matter movement. With chapters on campuses from the University of British Columbia to Carleton University, the organization has already secured significant victories from the University of Toronto. Sandy makes regular appearances in the media to discuss race issues and has had pieces published in the Toronto Star, Huffington Post and Her first contributions to two volumes; Upping the Anti, and New Framings on Anti-racism are to be published this year.


Syed Hussan is a writer and community based migrant justice activist who also organizes for environmental justice and in support of indigenous self-determination. He is a member of No One Is Illegal - Toronto, End Immigration Detention Network, FreeGrassy and is the coordinator of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

Deena Ladd has been working to improve wages and working conditions in sectors of work that are dominated with low-wages, discrimination, violations of rights, precarious and part- time work for the past 25 years. She is active in the Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and in the Social Justice Committee at her daughter's elementary school.  Deena is one of the founders and a co-ordinator of the Toronto Workers' Action Centre. The Workers' Action Centre organizes to improve wages and working conditions with low-waged workers, women, racialized and  immigrant workers in precarious jobs that face discrimination, violations of rights and no benefits in the workplace.

Avi Lewis is an award winning documentary filmmaker and long-time television journalist. His films include The Take and This Changes Everything. He is one of the co-authors of the Leap Manifesto and one of its leading advocates.

gilary headshot2.jpgGilary Massa graduated with a Bachelor in Political Science from York University in 2009. She is a proud Afro-Latina Muslim with a long standing history in community activism.  Gilary understands the ways in which marginalized peoples are robbed of their agency, and ability to pass on their stories, and is committed to creating spaces for communities to unite, on their own terms, against injustice and oppression. Over the past 10 years, Gilary has been an active member of the labour movement and student movement where she has fought for the rights of students and workers alike.  Gilary lives in Toronto and in 2016, joined NCCM as an Advocacy Coordinator. 

Sean Meagher is the Executive Director at Social Planning Toronto.  Sean has a long history in community engagement and community development across Toronto, in areas as diverse as community development, immigration, tax policy, housing and health, has used both traditional methods and community-based research strategies involving multilingual, homeless and youth communities.


Bianca Mugyenyi is an activist and author based in Montreal. She is the former Campaigns Coordinator at Concordia University’s Centre for Gender Advocacy and former Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students-Quebec. She is co--author ofStop Signs:Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay and has been a part of the Leap team since the Summer of 2015.


Lyndsay Macdonald, RECE is the Coordinator at the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario and a Registered Early Childhood Educator. Lyndsay has worked within Ontario's early childhood sector for ten years, both directly in programs and in policy research and advocacy. Lyndsay holds both a BA in Early Childhood Education and an MA in Early Childhood Studies from Ryerson University School of Early Childhood Studies. At the heart of Lyndsay's advocacy work are the dedicated and passionate early childhood educators and early years staff who provide high quality programs to children and families every day.

Howard Morton is a former Crown Attorney and the former Director of the Special Investigation Unit. He is a member of the Law Union of Ontario who has been active for almost 3 decades on police accountability and the protection of civil liberties.

photo.jpgLogan McIntosh's background is in environmental justice, deliberative dialogue and petro-politics organizing. She has designed and implemented deliberative projects that engaged hundreds of University of Alberta community members in sustainability planning. Her petro-politics organizing was directed at engagement around the tar sands, Indigenous solidarity, and water justice issues. Logan joined Leadnow in the spring of 2012, as a coordinator of decentralized days of action. Now she manages Leadnow’s national campaigns for a stronger democracy, clean environment, and fair economy.

Katelynn Northam is a digital campaigner at Leadnow and has been responsible for leading strategy and tactics on the Vote Better campaign for electoral reform. Prior to this role she was an organizer at Leadnow working both on mobilizing and organizing volunteers at the local and national level. She has also worked on youth civic engagement projects in Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Katie Perfitt is the Canada Divestment Organizer with, a global organization working for climate justice. There, she supports campus fossil fuel divestment campaigns across the country to challenge the social license of the fossil fuel industry. During her time in Nova Scotia, was involved in the grassroots movement to ban fracking in the province, was on the Canadian Youth Delegation to COP20 in Lima and COP21 Paris, and helped to organize PowerShift Atlantic, a conference by youth, for youth, exploring issues and learning skills for climate, environmental and social justice. She now lives in a rural community outside of Ottawa where she grew up. Katie has a Bachelors Degree in International Development Studies from the University of Ottawa and Master's of Resource and Environmental Studies from Dalhousie University.

Amara Possian (1).jpgAmara Possian. Based in Toronto, Amara works with a number of organizations to build purpose-driven, engaged, and resilient teams who can take bold action. While at Leadnow, she managed Vote Together, the 2015 election campaign which integrated sophisticated digital tools and a deep field organizing effort to help defeat the Harper Conservatives. She chairs the board of the Centre for Story-based Strategy and has a background in designing and running campaigns and deliberative processes, as well as in media relations, non-profit governance, facilitation, and digital engagement.  

Matt Price has had the privilege of working for a wide variety of environmental organizations in Canada and the U.S. over the past 15 years, from the grassroots to the giants. He lives on a small acreage on Vancouver Island, BC.

Judy Rebick is a well-known feminist and social justice activist, author, and speaker. She has been active in social justice and feminist movements since the 1960’s.  Judy was the founding Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice at Ryerson and is perhaps best known as a former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and a spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics.  

Redbird_0.jpgDuke Redbird is an indigenous poet, journalist, activist, artist, media personality, television reporter, businessman, actor and administrator, from Saugeen First Nation in Ontario. He describes himself as “still a kind of activist, but it's on a different level. I try to help people from community - aboriginal, indigenous people who may be Metis, First Nations or Inuit - who are assembling strategies to accomplish their goals. Wisdom is choosing the right goal. It's my job to ask: Is it wise?"

Shamus Reid is a co-founder of New/Mode, a new social venture that is reimagining democratic engagement in the digital age. Started through award-winning civic engagement organization, OpenMedia, New/Mode's mandate is to distribute OpenMedia's innovative tools and strategies that have helped them build some of the largest online campaigns in world history. New/Mode has worked with leading environmental and social justice organizations like The Leap Manifesto, the David Suzuki Foundation and SumOfUs.

13700135_10157172122440554_1706419141568832127_n.jpgCorvin Russell
is a popular educator, facilitator, and community organizer with long experience in building movements for social change. Corvin’s strengths are in strategy, facilitation, organization-building. Corvin is also a writer and has worked as an interpreter.  His current area of interest is Indigenous rights organizing, and he is an organizer with Defenders of the Land, a network of first nations in land struggle.

Graham Saul is one of the founding members of Ecology Ottawa, and is the acting Executive Director of the organization. He was formerly the Executive Director for Climate Action Network Canada – Résau action climat Canada. Graham has more than twenty years of experience working on social and environmental justice issues. He has worked for organizations such as the South African Institute for International Affairs, Oxfam International in Maputo, Mozambique, and at the Washington, D.C.–based Bank Information Center. In the past, Graham also served as the international program director for Friends of the Earth Canada and Oil Change International.

Matt Smith has over fifteen years of experience working on all aspects of campaigns in all sectors, including electoral, issue based, union organizing, for fundraising and more. Matt specializes in the areas of public opinion research, voter contact, data and engagement strategies and the development of new targeting approaches including adaptations of US microtargeting methodology to the Canada context. He overseas Stratcom’s Research & Engagement department and has been Vision Vancouver’s Voter Contact Director in the last four Vancouver municipal elections. Matt completed his Master’s in Geography from the University of Toronto. His thesis was an investigation into visible minority electability under Vancouver’s at-large electoral system. He has published research on visible minority electability in Ontario, and the key factors that allowed for the successful implementation of Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge bike lanes.


Dawn Maracle is a Bear Clan woman from the Kanienkeha Nation of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ontario. She is the Indigenous Undergraduate Medical Education Program Coordinator at the Faculty of Medicine, and the Program Coordinator for RETRAC2 (Research on Non-Traditional Tobacco Reduction in Aboriginal Communities) at the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, both at the University of Toronto. A leader in Indigenous communities for twenty-five years, Dawn is a mother, organizer, writer, speaker, facilitator, consultant, teacher and senior administrator of Indigenous education, student services, health, governance, women and arts issues. Dawn is one of Olivia Chow’s trainers for the Institute for Change Leaders, and a member of Project Change. Dawn is also a board member with Native Child and Family Services of Toronto. She has published pieces in books across Canada, the US, Italy and Germany, and most recently published on her journey as a cancer survivor.

Josh Stuart is the President of cStreet Campaigns, a digital agency with clients around the world. He specializes in using the organizing platform NationBuilder to help NGOs, labour unions, and political campaigns revamp and recharge their digital strategy. Since co-founding cStreet in 2012 Josh has worked with 50+ organizations around the world including Rainforest Action Network, The United Nations Association, Columbia University Alumni Association, Unifor and Vision Vancouver. Also, he was the first person to upload a gif of the Jose Bautista bat flip to Giphy.

Telfer, Lindsay.JPGLindsay Telfer has two decades of experience working with organizations, institutions and governments in developing policies and processes related to sustainability and public engagement. Her experience includes designing and participating in multi-stakeholder consultations and negotiations, strategic planning development, and communications and marketing geared towards public engagement in sustainability solutions.  Lindsay has built a knowledgeable repertoire of leading edge strategies for effective communications, messaging, and engagement practices.  She is currently the national project director for the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, an initiative on the Tides Canada shared platform.  The Freshwater Alliance builds, connects and supports freshwater constituencies across Canada.

Rachel Tetrault is a Field Organizer at Leadnow and is working with teams across the country to build capacity and push for a healthy environment, a just society, a fair economy and a strong democracy in the post-Harper era.  In the lead up to the 2015 federal election, Rachel organized with thousands of volunteers to sign up supporters to Vote Together and mobilize them on election day as part of the massive effort to defeat Harper, and build people power in the process. Before joining Leadnow, Rachel worked as a Settlement Youth Worker with the Vancouver School Board supporting newcomer immigrant and refugee youth in civic engagement and youth-led projects. Her experience in social justice work stems from her time in Quebec organizing with the Student Movement and the Palestinian Solidarity Movement where she became passionate about working with people to take collective action for the change we want to see.

Anna Willats has been a Toronto-based social justice and women’s rights educator, advocate, and organizer for over 35 years. In her paid work at George Brown College, she supports women and gender non-conforming people to prepare for post-secondary education and employment in a variety of sectors. Anna is a member and supporter of many organizations and campaigns, including the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition since 2001, the Harvesting Freedom and Raise the Rates campaigns, and the Groundswell Community Justice Trust Fund (  She publishes a weekly email newsletter called Rise Up! News and Events.


Ben Donato-Woodger has been making today a too gay since 1993. Ben’s organizing background is in the climate, fossil fuel divestment, and queer movements. Despite thinking he would never grow up to be his parents (who were both teachers), Ben fell into and in love with teaching community organizing after meeting Olivia Chow in 2015. He now works for Olivia and the Institute for Change Leaders to develop better trained progressive organizers across Ontario.


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