University of Ottawa researchers have started the academic year on a high note, earning two of the top five awards given by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
Katherine Lippel, a professor in the Civil Law Section of the Faculty of Law, has been awarded the Gold Medal, the council’s highest research honour, which recognizes “sustained leadership, dedication and originality of thought.” She is known worldwide for her pioneering work on occupational health and safety law.
Lori Beaman, a professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies, has received the Insight Award for outstanding achievement stemming from a research project funded partially or completely by SSHRC. Her Religion and Diversity Project — a sweeping international study on issues relating to religious diversity — was launched in 2010 with $2.5 million in funding from SSHRC.
“Katherine Lippel and Lori Beaman are at the forefront of research on critical questions of equality in today’s society,” said Sylvain Charbonneau, interim vice-president, research. “The University community applauds their stellar scholarship and leadership in key areas of public policy.”
Katherine Lippel is the third University of Ottawa professor to win the Gold Medal since its inception in 2003, following Shana Poplack in 2012 and Constance Backhouse in 2011.
A voice for vulnerable workers
One of Katherine Lippel’s latest projects is writing a report on occupational violence for the United Nations’ International Labour Organization. The ILO is but one of many organizations, at home and abroad, that regularly seek out her expertise on the interface between law and workplace health and safety.
Lippel, who holds the Canada Research Chair on Occupational Health and Safety Law, has worked for more than 30 years on a broad swath of issues affecting workers. Some of her most influential research focuses on the protection of mental health in the workplace, the importance of considering gender in occupational health and safety policies and the recognition of the right to compensation for work-related cancers. She studies regulatory approaches around the world to see whether they help improve the health and safety of workers.
Lippel says that she aims to “give a voice to people who don’t have a voice, in order to influence public policy.” This includes marginalized and injured workers, as well as women in male-dominated fields.
She would also like to examine further the plight of temporary workers and immigrants, who are often hired for the most dangerous jobs and are not properly protected. Over the past 15 or 20 years, Canada has seen an increase in certain categories of precarious employment, which, says Lippel, has undermined protections in employment legislation.
“I would like to retire knowing we’ve contributed to the prevention of the externalization of risk to the most vulnerable workers,” she says. It would indeed be a fitting way to cap a research career devoted to seeking equality in the workplace.
Dealing with diversity
Religion and diversity are at the root of much divisiveness around the world. But diversity can also be a valuable resource in the quest for equality in society, says Lori Beaman, who has spent the past seven years looking at this highly complex question through various lenses, along with an international team of 37 researchers.
One of the many areas her Religion and Diversity Project is working on is new tools to better measure the increasing range of religious and nonreligious identities. For instance, a growing segment of the Canadian population — about one in four people — identify as having no religion. Going forward, Beaman would like to explore the implications of the rising number of nonreligious people in Canada and in other countries such as Australia, England and Brazil.
Throughout her study, Beaman, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Religious Diversity and Social Change, has highlighted the role that Canada plays in responding to the challenges of increasing diversity.
“Those outside of Canada think we have something to offer in terms of models for understanding and navigating diversity,” she says. “We are often seen as a country in which, for example, multiculturalism works. We can certainly identify serious gaps in equality, but at the same time there are many ways in which Canadians think about diversity that can help to develop stronger models for living well together in a complex future.”