The 2022 Board/Staff of Manitobans for Human Rights (MHR)

The board of directors of Manitobans for Human Rights is a diverse group of hard-working, respectful individuals from all walks of life who share a commitment to human rights. The goal of the board is to work with all Manitobans to promote human rights learning across this great province of Manitoba and for Winnipeg to be the next Human Rights City in Canada.

Executive Committee
  • Walt Nilsson – President & Archival
  • Shandi Strong – Vice President
  • Dennis Ballard – Executive Secretary
  • Anthony Fernando – Treasurer
Board of Directors
  • Fiona Haftani
  • Valerie Thompson
  • Mary Lou Bourgois
  • Anthony Fernando
  • Shandi Strong
  • Rochelle Zimberg
  • Zara Kadhim


Honorary Board Members

  • Lloyd Axworthy



  • Lisa Hill-Vermette-Director of Administration and Events
  • Anukul Dash-Administrative Assistant


MHR Board of Directors Biographies

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Valerie Thompson

Writing a biography for Valerie Thompson that would include all her achievements would take forever because they simply never stop. This dynamic, tenacious, innovative, woman is known for bringing visions to realities. When Valerie puts her mind to something no matter what hurdles she has to jump over or challenges she has to face, her objective will be achieved. As a Leader, Valerie is tough, fair, loving and compassionate. She has no problem confronting people when necessary, and she treats everyone the same no matter where they fit in our society. If someone is in crisis, Valerie Thompson is always there to provide support.

Val performed all legal work required, and developed a relationship of trust with both the court and her clients. Val acquired the distinction of having no court case contested. Val then moved to The Residential Children’s Home of Winnipeg, a treatment centre for emotionally disturbed children where she first became the Director of Family Therapy and then the Unit Director. Next Val worked with the Paraplegic Association in the position of Supervisor of Services. Here Val was successful in obtaining funding to hire and train Aboriginal counselors to provide a peer based, culturally sensitive approach to Aboriginal clients who were disadvantaged.

The University of Manitoba’s School of Social Work approached Val to develop and deliver an inter-personal communications, training program to social work students. Whilst continuing to teach at the school of social work, Val decided to transfer her leadership skills to the automotive industry by accepting a position as manager for a Jeep-Eagle dealership during her summer break. Through hard work and effective leadership Val demonstrated the art of providing excellent customer service leading to increased sales and profitability. Val then made the decision to make a complete career change and joined her husband in the automobile business full-time.

In 1996, Valerie opened what turned out to be a tremendously successful auto body shop named Downtown Autobody. A solid relationship was developed with Manitoba Public Insurance resulting in Downtown Autobody being designated by MPI as a body shop that could assess the quality of work completed by other body shops and fix any outstanding problems. Profitable in the first month of operation and with continuous growth, Downtown Autobody had outgrown their facility after only two years and moved to a much larger facility in a better location and changed the name to Frontier Autobody. With so much more space Valerie applied to Subaru to be both a Subaru dealer and provide a Subaru repair shop, and was successful at achieving this great opportunity and the staff of five was now increased to thirteen. Once again Val demonstrated her leadership skills by creating a ‘family like environment’, treating her employees with the upmost respect, demonstrated by holding regular team meetings, providing continuous training and promoting from within. Her employees were committed to going the extra mile, and customer satisfaction and trust automatically led to new and repeat business.

With the successful growth of Frontier Subaru, Frontier Autobody, Frontier Toyota, and other holdings, the Frontier Group was established and managing legal and real estate transactions was added to the Frontier Group’s portfolio. Once again operating with the Frontier Groups company philosophy, to operate with integrity and focus consistently on customer satisfaction.

In 2015 Valerie Thompson registered the non-profit organization Manitobans for Human Rights, and in 2016 the organization received charitable status. MHR has a board of sixteen directors. MHR has held two Torch of Dignity Relays and this will be an ongoing annual event. The Torch of Dignity Relay is to bring Human Rights awareness through Human Rights Learning. More information about MHR, such as the development of their innovative steering committee, which will include representation from numerous agencies in Manitoba all committed to finding solutions to the needs facing many Manitoban’s can be found at

Community Involvement

  • Past President, Manitoba Learning Foundation
  • Past President, Better Business Bureau of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario
  • Past Vice-Chairperson, Canadian Council of Better Business Bureau’s
  • Past President, Reaching Out Employment Services
  • Past President, Reaching Equality Employment Services
  • Past Chair, Fundraising, Villa Rosa
  • Geographic Coordinator, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Manitoba


  • Recipient, Queen’s Jubilee Gold Award, for the contribution to the Better Business Bureau’s National Council.
  • Honourary Lifetime Member, Reaching Equality Employment Services
  • Elected Member, Subaru Canada’s Dealer Council
  • Nominated for the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award
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Lloyd Axworthy

Dr. Lloyd Axworthy PC CC OM, is a Canadian politician, statesman, academic, author and humanitarian.

Dr. Axworthy was recently appointed to lead the new World Refugee Council.

In 2002 Dr. Axworthy penned a very successful book – Navigating a New World. In his book he charts how we can become active citizens in the demanding world of the 21st century, to make the world safer, more sustainable and humane.

From 2004 to 2014 Dr. Axworthy served as president and vice chancellor of the University of Winnipeg and as chancellor of St. Paul’s University College (a constituent institution of the University of Waterloo).

In 1993 under Jean Chretien Dr. Axworthy became a cabinet minister. He was given responsibility for (HRDC) Human Resources Development Canada. In 1996 he became minister of foreign affairs.

In the mid 1990s for his comprehensive campaign to ban the use of anti-personal land mines, which led to the signing of the Ottawa Treaty in 122 countries. Dr. Axworthy was nominated for a Nobel peace prize.

Dr. Lloyd Axworthy received his MA and PhD from Princeton University returning to Canada in 1972 to teach at the University of Manitoba and at the University of Winnipeg. At the latter he also became Director of the Institute of Urban Affairs.

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Fiona Haftani

Born in Iran and worked several years as Committee Manager and Human Rights activist at Non-Governmental organizations & United Nations Development Program. Because of political issues at Iran she left to Malaysia and got her certificate in Information Technology from University of Tenaga. In 2006 she landed in Canada and obtained her bachelor degree in New Media at University of Lethbridge. She works as a manager of 7 eMedia marketing company and studies Political Science at University of Manitoba. She is a Member of The 25th Team Unicef Canada, Board member and Director of Communications of Manitobans for Human Rights.

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Mary Lou Bourgeois

Mary Lou Bourgeouis is a member of the Board for Manitoba for Human Rights who is on disability as well as being employed part-time by a Federal MP. She have belonged to other board committees and is a community activist. She was also employed by Stradbrook Residential Agency working for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Mary Lou attended the University of Manitoba and Red River Community College.

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Anthony Fernando

Anthony J. Fernando is a Spiritual Healer, Author, Professional Photographer, and Owner of Your Best Shot Photo & Video.

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Jackie Motoch

Jackie is a Senior Manager at Craig & Ross Chartered Professional Accountants located in downtown Winnipeg.  She has extensive experience with assurance and accounting services for both private and not-for-profit organizations in a wide range of industries.  Jackie graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 2002 and became a member of the institute of Chartered Accountants in 2006. She has worked with many NPO’s and registered charities, both as an external advisor and from within the organization.  Jackie was involved with Girl Guides of Canada for over 25 years as a girl member, then a leader in addition to serving as district treasurer for 10 years.   Jackie enjoys golf, cooking and running, both on the pavement and after her two young boys.

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Walt Nilsson

SECRETARY, ARCHIVIST Executive Member, Founder, MHR

Research Scientist: Biotechnology, Agriculturist, Environmentalist (Walt Nilsson Consulting & Associates)
(Entrepreneur) Business Owner, Fashions, Appraiser & Collector of Antiquities, Mineral Specimens, Gemologist.
(Interests) Emerging Technologies, Advancement of Human Rights, Transhumanism, Writing, Spelunking, Scuba, Oceans.

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Rochelle Zimberg

Rochelle Zimberg, MA. Former executive director of Manitoba urban municipalities, principal of Manitoba high school program in China, associate director of residences and conference coordinator, University of Manitoba.

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Shandi Strong

With a long history of volunteerism and organizing I became involved with The Oscar Wilde Memorial Society a.k.a. Gio’s Club and Bar, in 2008, which served as “The Heart of the Community” for the LGBT* community for over 35 years. Eventually becoming the board’s first ever female Vice President in the organization’s final years. Through my volunteer efforts and charisma I became quite well known in the city. My involvement at Gio’s, and fundraising efforts for their charity has cemented my place as a person who cares about my community.

These days I continue to support Winnipeg’s Rainbow Resource Centre by volunteering, sitting on committees, participating in programs, providing content and photography for their events. I write semi-regularly for Outwords Magazine and have been working as the Advocacy Coordinator for Pride Winnipeg. Throughout all of this I maintain a profile in local media speaking on Transgender related issues, and speak to groups, schools and organizations about my personal journey in an effort to foster understanding. In 2015 I was honoured to be the first ever Transgender Grand Marshall of Winnipeg’s Pride Parade for my work in the community. My autobiography “Growing a Pair” is also forthcoming. During the 2016 Provincial election I was nominated and ran as the Liberal Party MLA candidate for Wolseley. An honour coupled with hard work, fully supported by the party and my fellow candidates. In addition to staying active in politics I belong to the Manitoba Women’s Liberal Commission and serve as a member at large, as well as being the Constituency assistant to Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights.

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Ashley Haller

Ashley Haller is a Master of Human Rights Candidate at the University of Manitoba, where she has devoted the majority of her work to advancing gender equality and advocating for the human rights of women. Before entering the Faculty of Graduate Studies, Ashley worked in the political sphere as a Legislative Intern at the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba; and afterwards as an Election Official for Elections Manitoba during the 2019 provincial election. Ashley attended the University of Winnipeg for her undergraduate studies, where she completed a double major in Political Science and Rhetoric, Writing, and Communications, as well as a certificate in Public Policy. She is committed to pursuing her passion for human rights through research, policy, and projects that make a difference in the lives of others. When not working, Ashley is most likely reading, outside with her dogs, or trying to learn French!

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Zara Kadhim

Zara Kadhim is a third-year law student at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of law. Kadhim’s interest in law stems from her experiences as an immigrant coming from a country where the law was not valued nor enforced fairly, creating hardships for many people. These experiences have inspired her to not only work hard academically but also work to make a difference and serve her community as a woman of a visible minority. Prior to beginning law school, she completed a bachelor’s degree at the University of Manitoba, majoring in psychology and minoring in Judaic studies. Kadhim holds executive positions on student committees such as the Arab Students’ Association, Jam 4 Justice, and the Manitoba Law Students’ Association. She also volunteers for The Welcome Place, the Manitoba Islamic Association, and the Peaceful Village.