PSAC Scholarship Prairies Recipient

The PSAC Prairie Region would like to congratulate Jonny Sopotiuk for being selected from over 240 applications to receive the 2011 Groulx – PSAC National Scholarship in the amount of $3,000.


The PSAC Prairie Region would like to congratulate Jonny Sopotiuk for being selected from over 240 applications to receive the 2011 Groulx – PSAC National Scholarship in the amount of $3,000. 

Jonny has been involved with social justice issues and organizations for the last decade. One of his proudest achievements includes being the co-founder of Camp Aurora, a summer leadership and capacity building camp for queer, trans and allied youth in 2006. In 2008 he was elected the first openly gay president of UMSU, the largest student union in Manitoba representing over 23,000 undergraduate students at the University of Manitoba.

In 2007, Jonny was nearly fired from a job when the staff, represented by the Canadian Auto Workers‘ union, voted to go on strike and he refused to cross the picket line and do their work (he was told he was legally required to do so as a non-unionized supervisor). Instead, he joined them on the picket line and helped organize solidarity actions until the strike was over eight days later. 

Jonny’s father works as a Capital Services Officer with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and is approaching his 25 year anniversary as a federal government employee.

The scholarships were awared based primarily on the quality of the application essay. What did you choose to write about?

My essay centred on future retirement income for working people. My point was simple, we’re quickly approaching a crisis in poverty for seniors and retirees and change needs to take place immediately. My proposal was modest, implement the very reasonable demands of the Canadian Labour Congress’ Retirement Security for Everyone! campaign.

But my argument was the central point, and that was we desperately need labour law reform in Canada so that it’s easier for more Canadians to form and join unions. It was a two-fold point, the first being on the individual level and the second being on the societal level. Individual working people deserve the right to the higher wages and better benefits that unionized employees enjoy. In the long-term we need a strong Canadian labour movement to protect the gains working people have won over the years and to fight for the rights of working people well into the future.

What are you studying in school, and how close are you to finishing?

I chose to major in Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba for a number of reasons. I grew up in a working class home, and my family has a long history of being involved in labour and other political movements. I can remember visiting my dad on the picket line when I was a kid and was always entertained by my uncle’s vocabulary that included “brothers and sisters,” “solidarity,” “standing strong on the picket line,” and “fighting the boss for better working conditions.”

I first went to school to become a social worker, but when I discovered the Labour Studies Program I knew that was the right path for me to take. I’m pretty close to finishing my degree. I only have a few more courses to complete before I can declare graduation.

What are your goals for the future?

I’m now living part-time in Vancouver and part-time in Winnipeg. I was accepted last year into Emily Carr University of Art + Design for a four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Within the next couple years my goals are to graduate from the University of Manitoba and from Emily Carr University of Art + Design with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Fine Arts. In the long-term I hope to have a sustainable art and design practice that works on political messaging with labour and other social justice organizations.

Above, Jonny speaks as UMSU president at the Canadian Federation of Students Day of Action in 2008. Below, Jonny collects signatures on petitions for the PSAC “Protect Student Workers!” campaign.

Follow Jonny at Activism, meet Art. a collective blog about activism and art and everything in between.