2023 Sterling Prize Ceremony and Lecture with Nicole Luongo

2023, Equity + Justice, Health, Engage in Global Challenges, Make a Difference for B.C.

Nicole Luongo was the 2023 recipient of the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy for her support and commitment to fighting for those who are stigmatized and marginalized for using drugs, as well as her progressive approaches to drug policy, which have drawn criticism.

Luongo is a systems change coordinator with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC), which is in collaboration with researchers in SFU's Faculty of Health Sciences. In this role, Luongo advances education and advocacy supporting a legislative framework that would make all psychoactive drugs legal, safe, and government-regulated.

Additionally, Luongo strongly advocates for the abolition of involuntary institutionalization, which is a practice that permits healthcare providers to detain and admit people to hospital against their wishes. Although this coercive approach to treatment has long been utilized across the country, it has been expanding in some regions to include people who use illegal drugs. Those who criticize involuntary treatment point to its lack of evidence for alleviating distress or bringing about durable change, and they note that institutionalization of any kind correlates with overdose fatalities, especially when involuntary. 

“We as a society need to recognize that people are different and just because someone is engaging in 'deviant’ behaviour or behaviour that looks anomalous, it’s not inherently indicative of illness,” she explains. Luongo continues, “But we’ve been trained to bifurcate people into healthy and sick categories and to respond accordingly... What I’d love to see is a world that is built to be accommodating to a diversity of experiences.”

About the Sterling Prize

The Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy was first awarded in 1993 and remains committed to recognizing work that provokes and contributes to the understanding of controversy, while presenting new ways of looking at the world and challenging complacency. The prize recognizes work across disciplines and departments and is awarded annually by the Sterling Prize committee.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023

SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue

580 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 1L6


Nicole Luongo

Nicole Luongo has a background in medical sociology and previously taught at colleges in Alberta and the Lower Mainland. She has spent a decade working in solidarity with those most impacted by the intersections of drug prohibition, housing-deprivation, and disability (in)justice, including as a member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).

Her own personal experience with the mental health system, substance use, and homelessness informs her progressive perspective to drug policy development. Her 2022 memoir, titled The Becoming, details her autobiographical reflections and academic analysis of drug use and the mental health system. Currently, Luongo is a systems change coordinator with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC).

SFU News: Outspoken advocate for those who use drugs awarded SFU’s Sterling Prize for Controversy

Jane Pulkingham


Jane Pulkingham is a Professor of Sociology, currently serving as Senior Advisor (Academic Affairs) in the Office of the Provost and Vice President Academic at Simon Fraser University. From 2016 – 2021 she served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) at SFU. Previously, Pulkingham was Associate Dean (2013-2015) of FASS and served as Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology from 2003-2013. She completed her PhD in sociology and social policy at the University of Edinburgh.


Event partners


In-Person Accessibility

This event took place in the Asia Pacific Hall at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, located at 580 W. Hastings Street (enter via Seymour Street courtyard entrance). Plan your trip with TransLink’s Trip Planner

Bike stalls are available outside the Hastings entrance of SFU Harbour Centre (located across the street). Nearby parking is available at 500 & 400 W. Cordova Street.

Washrooms are located on the lower level, second, third, and fourth floors. The venue has a gender-neutral washroom, available on the second floor (use the hallway to the right). 

The venue is wheelchair and walker accessible, with elevators and fully accessible washrooms. The chairs within Asia Pacific Hall have armrests with the seat measuring 50cm (w) x 48cm (d).

Previous Sterling Prize Lectures