Logo of 2017 Vanier Scholarships | 2018-07-19

Celebrating PhD student recipients of prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships


Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies PhD students Leigha Comer and Natasha Henry have been awarded prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, receiving $50,000 annually for up to three years to support their research projects.

Vanier Scholars demonstrate leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and/or humanities, natural sciences and/or engineering and health.

“These research projects will produce results with significant impact, certainly for knowledge within their disciplines, but also for individuals in communities and society at large,” said Thomas Loebel, dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. “On behalf of the entire graduate community, I want to congratulate each of you on this impressive scholarly achievement.”

A full listing of recipients from across Canada can be found at the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships website.

Leigha Comer 

L Comer

Leigha Comer

Comer’s proposed thesis “The Social Organization of Opioid Use for Chronic Pain in Canada” examines the day-to-day lives of individuals using opioids to manage their chronic pain.

“In light of the significant increase of opioid-related deaths and harms in North America – the ‘opioid crisis’ – there has been a series of policy decisions intended to curb opioid use,” said Comer. “The problem with these policies is that they target the use of opioids for chronic pain as a ‘primary pathway’ through which opioids are misused and diverted, and so they criminalize people who need opioids for pain relief without recognizing the complex ways in which they come to use opioids in the first place.”

Comer notes that current policies attribute these individuals as criminals as opposed to vulnerable members of society who have a right to pain relief.

“My goal is to give a voice to people with chronic pain, and to recognize them as key stakeholders in policy decisions targeted at curbing the ‘opioid epidemic.’ I’d like to bring more attention to how people with chronic pain actually come to use opioids for their pain,” she said.

In addition to thanking Department of Sociology faculty and staff members Harris Ali, Pat Armstrong and Audrey Tokiwa, Comer noted her supervisor, Eric Mykhalovskiy, as a steadfast supporter throughout the application process.

“My methodology and my theoretical framework are very much inspired by his work, and in particular his emphasis on producing knowledge for people that will have real impacts on their lives,” she said.

Natasha Henry

N Henry

Natasha Henry

Henry’s research assesses the scale and nature of slavery in Upper Canada (early Ontario, 1750-1834) for people of African descent.

“To date, we know very little about Black enslavement in colonial Ontario and the ways the institution linked with the broader transatlantic slave trade,” she said. “What’s more, many prevailing narratives persist which have contributed to the stagnation of the scholarship on slavery and have worked to silence it from our history.”

Henry challenges the accounts that slavery did not take place in Canada, that it was benign, and that it had an inconsequential impact on Canadian history.

“The goal of my research seeks to challenge and transform the dominant sentiments of slavery in early Ontario and to make a significant contribution to the scholarship on slavery in Canada by conducting a quantitative analysis of enslaved Blacks in Upper Canada in conjunction with composing biographically-focused narratives to shed light on the humanity of the enslaved,” she said.

The hope is to create an innovative educational database to better exhibit Canada’s role in the slave trade and the continued aftereffects Canadians of African descent experience in society today.

Henry is the current president of the Ontario Black History Society, an organization dedicated to the study, preservation and promotion of Black history and heritage, and she is affiliated with The Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and Its Diasporas along with her supervisor Michele Johnson.