By Tamarah Feder
McGill doctoral law student Claris Harbon was one of 14 Canadian and foreign students recognized recently by the Trudeau Foundation for their work in areas including environment, international affairs, responsible citizenship and human rights and dignity.
In addition to the generous financial prize, Trudeau Scholars benefit from the expertise and knowledge of Trudeau Fellows and Mentors, highly accomplished individuals in the Trudeau community who are leaders in both academic and non-academic settings. Many Trudeau Scholars go on to become leading national and international figures.
Before coming to McGill for her doctorate, Harbon was engaged in clinical education and social justice in Israel, mainly from a communitarian perspective. Her focus has been on disempowered groups or silenced minorities, such as Mizrahis (Jews of Arab descent), Arab-Israelis, Palestinians, Ethiopians and women and children.
Harbon is seeking to develop an alternative legal discourse that reflects the needs of the community and through which the community can translate personal legal problems into social change by exploring the presumably “neutral” role of law in the construction of ethnic and racial identities of underprivileged minorities, and which can result in structural, legal and social inferiority.
“Becoming a Trudeau Scholar is important to me as I am in the process of developing a voice within academia, and becoming a scholar in such an embracing and encouraging Foundation is exciting,” said Harbon.
“Trudeau Scholarships not only accelerate the careers of the doctoral students who receive them, but also enable recipients to make a constructive contribution to Canada and Canadians,” said Foundation President P.G. Forest. “The Trudeau Foundation rewards excellence and provides young researchers with the best conditions to ground their work in the real world.”
Harbon holds graduate law degrees from Tel Aviv University and Yale Law School. She has been active in a broad range of women’s-rights issues, including the founding of Tmura, the Israeli Legal Center Against Discrimination. She also was also a founder of Itach, Women Lawyers for Social Justice NGO, and is a board member of Achoti, a feminist Mizrahi organization for underprivileged women.
“With its emphasis on themes of human dignity and responsible citizenship, the Trudeau Foundation will enable me to pursue an interdisciplinary and dialogic research project that intersects the disciplines of law, sociology, gender and culture, and which seeks to build bridges between different discriminated communities,” she added.
The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation was established in 2001 as a living memorial to the former Prime Minister by his family, friends and colleagues. The Foundation is an independent and non-partisan Canadian charity. In 2002, the Government of Canada endowed the Foundation with a donation of $125 million following a unanimous vote in the House of Commons. In addition, the Foundation benefits from private sector donations in support of specific initiatives.
“We are thrilled that Claris, an O’Brien Doctoral Fellow at our Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, has been nominated as a Trudeau Scholar. Her work on women’s rights is innovative, comparative and deeply important in its exploration of civil disobedience and resistance to oppression in the everyday lives of women”, said Colleen Sheppard, McGill Law Professor and the Centre’s Director.
In addition to her academic, legal and community work Harbon is publishing a children’s book and book of poetry.