Since 2008, the Public Health Champion Awards have recognized individuals or organizations that have made outstanding contributions to protecting and promoting the health of Toronto’s residents.

Awards were presented to one individual and one organization for their demonstrated achievements in one or more of the following four areas:

1. Providing leadership in efforts to reduce health inequalities.

For example:

  • advocating for public policies that address determinants of health
  • contributing to the expansion of public health evidence and knowledge base

2. Fostering collaboration to improve the health of the population.

For example:

  • strengthening partnerships across sectors and among diverse groups
  • developing knowledge exchange strategies to promote awareness and deepen commitments to public health

3. Building community capacity through innovative health promotion strategies.

For example:

  • advancing new approaches to cross-cultural communications
  • empowering marginalized and vulnerable populations

4. Achieving impact by acting as a catalyst for positive change.

For example:

  • mobilizing resources to respond to an emerging public health issue
  • affecting improvements to public health indicators or outcomes


The Public Health Champion Awards will not be conducted in 2018. Please email for more information.

Congratulations to all our past Public Health Champion Award winners below.


Individual: Walter Cavalieri

Walter Cavalieri has been a pioneer in the area of harm reduction for the past 30 years. As the founder and director of the Canadian Harm Reduction Network, his efforts to reduce the social, health and economic harms for those who use drugs has had a profound impact in our communities. In the 1990s, Cavalieri was instrumental in launching the first needle exchange in Toronto. This work has helped reduce the number of overdose deaths and reduce HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission. Cavalieri was also instrumental in spearheading “Reciprocal Learning” a program that recognizes that users are experts and can teach those who deliver health care, social programs and drug policy. Cavalieri’s activism and insights have helped shape the development of local and national public health policy to improve the lives of vulnerable and marginalized individuals in our communities.

Organization: Toronto Distress Centre

The Toronto Distress Centre is part of the oldest suicide prevention agency in Canada. Founded in 1967, its dedicated team of volunteers has provided telephone-based crisis intervention support to vulnerable and at-risk individuals for 50 years. The Centre receives more than 120,000 calls a year and offers a variety of services including a 24/7 hotline, support for individuals and families affected by homicide and suicide, and programming for isolated and marginalized individuals, particularly seniors. The Toronto Distress Centre also operates a suicide prevention program in the City’s subway network. Through this broad range of work, the Toronto Distress Centre provides mental and emotional support in our communities that saves lives and builds a better city.

Individual: Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller has shown remarkable leadership and dedication through her research and activism with the Canadian Environmental Law Association and as Co-Chair of the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition’s Environmental and Occupational Working Group. Her work on the Community Right to Know bylaw led to the creation of Toronto Public Health’s reporting program ChemTRAC, which collects yearly data from local businesses and institutions on 25 priority substances that exist in the city’s air at levels of concern for health. These efforts have helped raise awareness of the impact that environmental contaminants have on public health, contributed to public discussion and had a lasting influence on healthy public policy.

Organization: Agincourt Community Services Association

Agincourt Community Services Association (ACSA),  a non-profit, multi-service agency for children, youth, seniors, newcomers, homeless and underserved communities, has been an instrumental part of the community for over 50 years. Through addressing public health issues such as income and income distribution, employment, early childhood development, food insecurity, social exclusion and social safety, and harm reduction, ACSA has acted as a catalyst for positive change. Through its work with the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy and the Healthy Babies Healthy Children Program, ACSA has helped improve public health indicators and outcomes in an effort to reduce health inequities.

Individual: Floydeen Charles-Fridal

Floydeen Charles-Fridal has shown exceptional leadership through her work with Rexdale Community Health Centre and as President of the Board of Directors at TAIBU Community Health Centre. She helped develop of many of TAIBU’s innovative programs, including its dental and oral health, sickle cell, diabetes education and peer nutrition programs. Her efforts have improved access to health services for many of the city’s residents.

Organization: Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services

Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services has been a dedicated champion of community health for over 20 years. Supporting new residents and racialized communities in Toronto, Access Alliance has been instrumental in establishing a medical clinic to provide health care services to these under-served populations. The organization has also been a key partner in collaborations with other service agencies, community organizations and research institutions, with the goal of increasing dialogue and engagement around the issue of accessible health care and services.

Individual: Margaret Leslie

Margaret Leslie is Director of the Early Interventions Program at the Canadian Mothercraft Society. Leslie has provided leadership to improve the health of mothers and children through innovative harm reduction, mental health and substance abuse programs for nearly 30 years. She was instrumental in creating Mothercraft’s Breaking the Cycle, an initiative that is recognized by the United Nations as a best practice program serving pregnant and parenting women with substance abuse problems.

Organization: Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF)

Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the health of trees. Every year, the city’s urban forest sequesters over 46,000 tonnes of carbon – equivalent to the emissions from 31,000 automobiles or 16,000 homes. Carbon, a common pollutant in Toronto’s air, is responsible for premature deaths and hospitalizations. LEAF has helped plant more than 20,000 native trees and shrubs in Toronto and in York Region, thus helping to improve air quality since 1996.

Individual: Colin Hughes (posthumous)

For over 25 years, Colin Hughes was a community worker with the Children’s Aid Society. A respected child and family poverty activist, his many archievements throughout the years demonstrated his unwavering commitment to improving the lives of children, youth and their families.

Organization: Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition

Over the last 15 years, the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition (TCPC) has provided a leadership role in education and advocacy to prevent the major causes of cancer. TCPC has developed innovative partnerships to improve the health of the whole population.

Individual: Sudharshana Coomarasamy

The recipient in the individual category is Sudharshana Coomarasamy (nee Rajasingam), Community Development Worker and Mental Health counsellor at the St. Josephs Women’s Health Centre and an active community volunteer. In 1999, Ms. Coomarasamy co-founded the Tamil Service Providers Coalition (TSPC), which has grown to include approximately 45 member agencies providing a diverse range of services to Tamil communities across Toronto.

Ms. Coomarasamy also initiated the Tamil Woman Abuse Prevention Working Group in 2005. This Working group focuses on identifying gaps in services, and takes action to ensure services are more effectively and equitably delivered within the Tamil populations.

Organization: The Stop Community Food Centre

The recipient in the organization category is The Stop Community Food Centre. The Stop is a thriving community hub where neighbours participate in a broad range of programs that provide healthy food, as well as foster social connections, build food skills and promote civic engagement. The Stop’s programs include: community gardens and a Green Barn; community cooking programs; bake ovens and markets; a food bank; drop-in meals; pre- and post-natal nutrition and support program for women living on low incomes; and community advocacy aimed at poverty reduction.

Individual Category – Lillie Johnson

Founding and current board member of the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario (SCAO)

Ms. Johnson is a retired 86-year old registered nurse and educator who has worked tirelessly to promote awareness of sickle cell anemia and its disproportionate impact on racialized populations. She was instrumental in the founding of the SCAO in 1981 as a volunteer advocacy and support group that in its early days operated largely out of her home.

She personally provided counseling and support to many individuals and led advocacy efforts to engage government and health administration officials in adopting coordinated strategies to address the needs of people with sickle cell anemia. Following the receipt by the SCAO of a multi-year funding grant in 2003 from the Trillium Foundation, one of the most significant achievements was the recent inclusion of sickle cell disease to the Ontario newborn screening program.

Organization Category – Community Matters Toronto (CMT)

CMT is a dynamic, grassroots organization of St. James Town residents whose motto is “Neighbours helping neighbours” and whose work helps people speak for themselves, develop skills and help others. CMT was founded 10 years ago to provide a local voice on common issues among residents and provides support to families around housing, finances, employment, citizenship, language and parenting. Recent achievements include improving crosswalk access at a local school and preventing the closure of a school pool.

Programs are run with a Community Assistant Model where residents gain skills by becoming actively involved in programming that benefits the whole community. St. James Town is a densely populated and culturally diverse neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.

Individual Category – Wendy Babcock

Wendy worked as a harm reduction worker at Street Health. She was an outspoken advocate for the safety of sex workers and  helped to create numerous projects to promote their health, such as the Safer Stroll Project and the Bad Date Book Coalition.

Sadly, Wendy passed away on August 9, 2011. Her commitment and advocacy for harm reduction and social justice will be missed.

Organization Category – Volunteer Physicians and Dentists, Scarborough Urban Health Outreach Centre

The Volunteer Physicians and Dentists provide care to uninsured and vulnerable individuals and families at the Scarborough Urban Health Outreach Centre. This includes new immigrants (within the 3 month wait period), people who are applying for status or have expired claims, people who are homeless or at risk, and those who have lost or expired health cards.

For more information on our 2008 Public Health Champion Award winners, please view our 2008 news release.