As a two-time immigrant to Canada, activist, author and award-winning filmmaker Bonnie Sherr Klein was surprised to hear she has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada.
It is one of the nation’s highest honours and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to Canada.
“It was a huge surprise, but it’s an incredible honour,” said Sherr Klein, a part-time resident of Roberts Creek. “I haven’t fully digested it yet. I think I’m an odd recipient, though. I’m not Canadian born and I immigrated twice.”
Born in Philadelphia, Sherr Klein came to Canada with her husband as a draft dodger in the ‘60s.
“We arrived at a really optimistic and open time. It was 1967 and Canada was just very alive and dissidence was welcomed,” she said.
“My first job was for the National Film Board of Canada and I was in Challenge for Change, which was a government funded program to elicit grassroots feedback on government programs. So the government was funding filmmakers to basically help people criticize the government. It’s almost unheard of today.”
While at Challenge for Change, Sherr Klein produced films that shed light on prominent social problems.
In 1970 she returned to the U.S. while her husband, a physician, finished his post-doctorate work. Once completed, the couple came back to Canada in 1975.
“The second time I immigrated, I went to Studio D because the Film Board had started the first and only government-funded feminist film studio in the world,” Sherr Klein said.
It was there that she produced one of her most renowned films, Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography. The documentary shows Sherr Klein and stripper Lindalee Tracy investigating the world of pornography, which the film is obviously against.
Her most important work arguably came after she suffered two strokes in 1987 that changed her life forever.
After working for three years to regain her speech and learn how to use a motorized scooter, Sherr Klein became a passionate activist for the disabled. She penned the book Slow Dance: A Story of Strokes, Love and Disability and in 2006, she produced one of her favourite films, Shameless: The Art of Disability.
The film was intended to break stereotypes and show disabled people as vibrant, fully productive members of society.
“That was the first one I did after my stroke. I think they expected more of a civil rights film, but what they got was sort of an intimate pajama party that shatters the different stereotypes,” Sherr Klein said.
She’s pleased the Canadian government considered her work in this country worthy of an award.
“We had the advantage of living in both countries and we chose Canada because it was so far ahead and it just seemed like a gentler, less violent and more public-minded country, and I still love Canada. I’m a fierce patriot and I’m impressed the government didn’t mind that, or decided that I could get an Order of Canada,” Sherr Klein said. “I guess I’m not as big a rabble rouser as I’d like to think.”