Award announcement

Francisco Rico-Martínez receives 2023 Guthrie Award

October 30, 2023

The Law Foundation of Ontario is pleased to announce that Francisco Rico-Martínez is the posthumous recipient of the 2023 Guthrie Award, the Foundation’s signature award to recognize exceptional access to justice champions.

“The name Francisco Rico-Martínez is synonymous with the rights of refugees,” says Linda Rothstein, the Foundation’s Board Chair. “He devoted his life to ‘walking with uprooted people’ and used his passionate voice and empathy to inspire a more just, fair, and humane immigration system.”

Before his passing, Francisco was the Co-Director of the FCJ Refugee Centre (FCJ), an organization he founded and ran with his spouse, Loly Rico. FCJ provides advice, counsel, and support to refugees, migrant workers, survivors of human trafficking, and others at-risk related to their claim or immigration status. FCJ is also a leading public legal educator and advocate on refugee and immigration policies and issues.

“Francisco was the greatest advocate our community could imagine,” shared Diana Gallego, FCJ Senior Director and who nominated Francisco for the Guthrie Award. “There is not a single person who was not touched by his grace, encouragement, and nurturing. He was a great champion for the rights of the marginalized, the forgotten, the ignored. Francisco worked every day to ensure no one would be left without hope or would find a closed door. We continue this fight for justice in his memory, inspired, and guided by his life’s work.”

Francisco was born and raised in El Salvador. There he earned his Juris Doctor and worked as a lawyer, law professor, writer, political analyst, and human rights advocate. He was an investigator for the archbishop office of San Salvador and a refugee issues advisor for the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Due to his activism, Francisco was a target of civil violence. He, Loly, and their children were forced to flee El Salvador during the civil war. They arrived in Canada as refugees in 1990. They did not speak English and their education credentials were not recognized. A year later, with the support of the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus, Francisco and Loly founded a project that would become the FCJ Refugee Centre. They ran FCJ together for almost 30 years before his death in August 2021 at the age of 63 from cancer. Loly continues to serve as FCJ’s Executive Director.

“Francisco’s life and career embodied a deep and abiding commitment to service and making the world a better, more just place for everyone,” shared Sharry Aiken, Associate Professor, Queen’s University, Faculty of Law, who supported Francisco’s nomination. “He organized rallies, spearheaded community fundraising drives, engaged in incisive policy advocacy, and had a truly impressive record of finding a way around any legal roadblock. Through op eds in print media and countless appearances in news and public affairs programs, Francisco was a leading voice for refugee and migrant rights in Canada.”

Francisco was awarded a Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship from The Law Foundation of Ontario. Through it he conducted research on the basis and implications of the ‘principal applicant’ approach of Canada’s immigration and refugee law, policy, procedures, and programs and he delivered faculty and student lectures on the ‘uprooted people’ perspective of im/migration.

“When Maytree began our focus on immigration and refugee issues, we supported an initiative Francisco developed called Refugee Help in Refugee Hands,” shared Elizabeth McIsaac, President, Maytree, who supported Francisco’s nomination. “As a refugee advocate with lived experience, he understood the need to empower refugees with the tools they need to claim their rights and access justice. The impact was broad and shaped the work of the centre and other refugee serving groups going forward.”

Francisco was the first refugee to serve as the president of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR). The organization established the Francisco Rico-Martinez Access to Justice Award in 2021 ‘to honour and continue Francisco’s leadership over his three decades within the CCR’.

He was a commanding presence on many other boards and networks, including as the Toronto Regional Director of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, co-chair of the Inland Protection Group of the Canadian Council for Refugees, and a member of Legal Aid Ontario’s Immigration and Refugee Law Advisory Committee. He was the recipient of numerous community awards including the City of Toronto William P. Hubbard Race Relations Award and the YMCA Peace Medallion.

The Guthrie Award Medal will be presented at a private reception with Francisco’s family, colleagues, and community, public health protocols permitting.

About the Guthrie Award
The Law Foundation of Ontario created the Guthrie Award in 1996 to honour H. Donald Guthrie, Q.C., a long-standing member and Chair of the Foundation’s Board. A Guthrie Award recipient joins the legacy of the Guthrie Award and becomes a member of an esteemed group recognized for their achievements in improving access to justice. Past recipients have come from many directions – the judiciary, private bar, community legal clinics, and nonprofit organizations. They saw a chance to make a difference and took it. See the full list of Guthrie Award recipients.

The Law Foundation of Ontario

The Law Foundation of Ontario has been advancing access to justice since 1974. Through granting and collaboration, the Foundation invests in knowledge and services that help people understand the law and use it to improve their lives. The Foundation also administers the Class Proceedings Fund, which provides cost assistance in class actions. The Foundation’s main source of revenue is interest received from lawyers’ and paralegals’ mixed trust accounts. Another source of revenue is cy-près awards. When received, cy-près revenue is allocated to the Foundation's national Access to Justice Fund.

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The Law Foundation of Ontario