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June 12, 2017
Toronto Board of Health announces 2017 Public Health Champion Award winners
The Board of Health is proud to present the Public Health Champion Awards to Walter Cavalieri and the Toronto Distress Centre. These awards recognize achievements by individuals and organizations working to improve the health and well-being of Toronto residents.

"The Public Health Champion Awards acknowledge the incredible contributions that both individuals and groups make to improve the lives of the people of this city and to build a city we can continue to be proud of," said Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21 St. Paul's), Chair of the Board of Health. "I am thrilled to recognize these two wonderful recipients and their public health contributions and legacy in Toronto."

Cavalieri has been a pioneer in the area of harm reduction for the past 30 years. As the founder and director of the Canadian Harm Reduction Network, his efforts to reduce the social, health and economic harms for those who use drugs has had a profound impact in our communities. In the 1990s, Cavalieri was instrumental in launching the first needle exchange in Toronto. This work has helped reduce the number of overdose deaths and reduce HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission. Cavalieri was also instrumental in spearheading "Reciprocal Learning,” a program that recognizes that users are experts and can teach those who deliver health care, social programs and drug policy. Cavalieri's activism and insights have helped shape the development of local and national public health policy to improve the lives of vulnerable and marginalized individuals in our communities.

The Toronto Distress Centre is part of the oldest suicide prevention agency in Canada. Founded in 1967, its dedicated team of volunteers has provided telephone-based crisis intervention support to vulnerable and at-risk individuals for 50 years. The Centre receives more than 120,000 calls a year and offers a variety of services including a 24/7 hotline, support for individuals and families affected by homicide and suicide, and programming for isolated and marginalized individuals, particularly seniors. The Toronto Distress Centre also operates a suicide prevention program in the City's subway network. Through this broad range of work, the Toronto Distress Centre provides mental and emotional support in our communities that saves lives and builds a better city.

Since 2008, the Public Health Champion Awards have recognized individuals and organizations for their leadership in reducing health inequalities, fostering collaboration to improve the health of the population, building community capacity through innovative health promotion strategies and acting as a catalyst for positive change. More information is available at

Toronto is Canada's largest city, the fourth largest in North America, and home to a diverse population of about 2.8 million people. It is a global centre for business, finance, arts and culture and is consistently ranked one of the world's most livable cities. In 2017, Toronto will honour Canada's 150th birthday with "TO Canada with Love," a year-long program of celebrations, commemorations and exhibitions. For information on non-emergency City services and programs, Toronto residents, businesses and visitors can visit, call 311, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or follow us on Twitter at and on Instagram at

Media Contact
Keisha Mair
Toronto Public Health



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