Order of Ontario appoints Hamilton human rights scholar


Published November 6, 2023 at 4:23 pm

A renowned Hamilton human rights scholar, Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, has yet another feather in her cap after the Order of Canada appointee was also appointed to the Order of Ontario.

Howard-Hassmann has a long history as one of Canada’s foremost human rights researchers. Prior to her career, however, she was born in Scotland. Her father, born Helmut Hassmann, was a Jewish refugee from Germany who fled in 1938 amid the consolidation of Nazi power. He was wanted by the Gestapo secret police after criticizing Adolf Hitler at a banquet, according to a profile of Howard-Hassman in Hamilton Jewish news.

The family came to Canada when Howard-Hassman was a small child. However, the family still kept their Jewish origins under wraps. They adopted the name Howard to keep their culture hidden. Howard-Hassman reverted to her current name professionally years later. She credited her father’s background as a refugee with sparking her interest in human rights scholarship.

She settled in Hamilton in 1976 and joined the Temple Anshe Sholom. She spent 27 years as a professor at McMaster University and found the first non-law course on human rights there. For 13 years, she sat as the Canada Research Chair at Wilfred Laurier University.

She has written numerous books, journals and articles about human rights in Canada and Africa. One of her most recent works, State Food Crimes, explored situations in which governments create famine among their own people. Her earlier works focused a great deal on Africa starting with her doctoral research, Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana in 1978.

Since then she’s served as a visiting scholar in South Africa, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States. She has received numerous honours for her work over the years including an appointment to the Royal Society of Canada, the International Studies Association, the American Political Science Association. These organizations and more have also granted her significant medals and honours.

Most recently, in June, she was appointed to the Order of Canada alongside her McMaster colleagues Gary Purdy and Jeffery Weitz. The Order said at the time they were honouring Howard-Hassman “for her extensive scholarly contributions and steadfast commitment to the advancement of international human rights.”

The Order of Ontario announced her appointment to their ranks on Nov. 6 as “one of the world’s most influential human rights scholars.” They continued, “She is renowned for her groundbreaking work in understanding why poverty and social marginalization occur; her fearlessness in challenging conventional beliefs, and her commitment to advancing human dignity. Her impact is as enduring as it is profound.”


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