Former chair, City of Edmonton Youth Council
photo by Curtis Trent
Why She’s Top 40: Her work, leadership and passion for change have helped give Edmonton youth a voice in local government and LGBTQ youth across Alberta a more inclusive and safe environment.
If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be? “It would be to rid Edmonton of any lingering, ‘Deadmonton’ apathetic attitude. I want Edmontonians to fully embrace the idea that this is their Edmonton, and it is not a constant, static thing. People should bet on us. We rock. We’re young and we are growing and this is a place where things can progress.”
When fifth-generation Edmontonian Claire Edwards received a TD Scholarship for Community Leadership in 2012, she had to decide if she would attend the University of Alberta or a different school in another province that might allow her to spread her wings more. “I decided I would attend the U of A for one year first, and just see what happened,” she says.
But, being a person so dedicated to making change, things rarely “just happen” to Edwards.
Already a volunteer for the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, and working with Amnesty International raising awareness about conditions on First Nations reserves, Edwards had entrenched herself in Edmonton so completely that, by the end of that first year, the thought of leaving was gone.
By 2014, she was part of the City of Edmonton Youth Council (CEYC), serving first as a general member and then chair of the policy subcommittee. She was instrumental in restructuring the council so it could have a more active role.
“I felt like it was a missed opportunity to fully reach our mandate — which is to provide recommendations [to City Council] and give youth the opportunity to participate,” says Edwards. “So why not change that?”
She was elected chair soon after and, last fall, when the Alberta Legislature was debating Bill 10 — which would have allowed school boards to reject peer support groups such as gay-straight alliances — Edwards led CEYC’s charge to demand amendments to the bill, and that youth be consulted in the creation of such policies. City council agreed and, combined, the institutions lended their voices to countless others in favour of stopping the bill. Within 24 hours of the CEYC’s motion, Bill 10 was put on hold. Meanwhile, the CEYC consulted with LGBTQ youth, ensuring MLAs could hear them. By the time the bill was amended, Edwards was one of the most prominent faces in the fight.
“The right to safety trumps every other right,” says Edwards. “And LGBTQ youth don’t have the platform to speak to elected officials. To help with that, that’s what leadership is. It isn’t power over others; it is being able to give power to others.”