Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry, Orange Shirt Day founder Phyllis Webstad, to receive JIBC honorary degrees on June 8
The Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) will present Doctor of Laws degrees, honoris causa, to two extraordinary women at its 2023 spring convocation: Phyllis Webstad, residential school Survivor and founder of Orange Shirt Day, and Karen Fry, Vancouver’s first female fire chief and general manager of Vancouver Fire Rescue Services.
“Phyllis Webstad and Karen Fry are both remarkable women and we look forward to honouring their achievements at this year’s spring convocation,” said JIBC President and CEO Dr. Michel Tarko. “Phyllis has made profound contributions to public awareness and understanding of the residential school system and the advancement of Truth and Reconciliation. Chief Karen Fry has championed fire safety by innovating, building relationships and advocating for legislation that protects the public and fire service professionals, all while serving as a leader and role model for women firefighters everywhere.”
Today, people across Canada and, increasingly in the United States and beyond, wear orange shirts to acknowledge the horrific Truths of the genocide committed through the country’s residential school system. But it all began as the childhood experience of one Survivor, Phyllis Webstad of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek Dog Creek) First Nation. By sharing her own personal story, she spoke for thousands of Survivors and those who never made it home.
Webstad currently serves as ambassador for the Orange Shirt Society. She first told the story of how her new orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, was taken from her on her first day at residential school as part of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion in 2013. Since then and thanks largely to Webstad’s efforts, which have included publishing five children’s books, the orange shirt has become a symbol of Truth and Reconciliation, a visible reminder of the residential school system along with the message that “Every Child Matters.” The educational movement highlighted by Webstad’s story led to Sept. 30 being recognized as Orange Shirt Day, and eventually to the federal government establishing that day as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which became a statutory holiday in B.C. in 2023. Learn more about Phyllis Webstad’s important accomplishments here.
The second recipient is Chief Karen Fry, Vancouver’s first female fire chief, who began her career in the fire service as a fire dispatcher with Nanaimo Fire Rescue. She worked her way up the ranks, both in Nanaimo and the City of Surrey, before being appointed as the fire chief for the City of Nanaimo in 2017. She has served in her current role with Vancouver Fire Rescue, the largest fire department led by a woman in Canada, since 2020 and currently also serves as 1st Vice-President with the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C.
Through her leadership, fire safety improvements have included changes to legislation, and a program she co-developed on fire safety for building owners and managers. She introduced data analytics to many fire departments across British Columbia, which enables the leaders within these departments to explain their value to their respective communities. Chief Fry is also known for her advocacy work on behalf of firefighters which has included fighting for priority COVID-19 vaccinations, seeking a higher level of medical training, and advocating for “right to know” legislation for workers, such as those exposed to hazardous substances. She is also a huge advocate for mental health and prevention of heart disease and cancers in the fire service. A passion for fire prevention led to her ordering the removal of encampments for fire safety concerns and advocating for provincial standards for single-room occupancy hotels.
The 2023 Spring Convocation ceremony will be held on June 8 at the New Westminster campus to recognize approximately 680 graduates who have completed certificates, diplomas and degrees at JIBC.