Board of Directors

Brian Smeenk 

I’m a partner at Fasken Martineau in the Firm’s Labour, Employment & Human Rights Group. My law practice focuses on management-side labour and employment law. I represent both private and public sector employers, working with both unionized and non-union employee groups.  This involves me in court cases, hearings before boards and tribunals, as well as union negotiations. In 2015, I was named a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.

I’m an avid cyclist, having done the Ride for Heart and Ride to Conquer Cancer several times.  Most of my vacations are cycling vacations in Canada and abroad.

I am one of the founders of the Merit Award Bursary Program and have been an active board member since it began in 1996. I am very pleased to see how it has grown and to get such positive feedback from so many students.

Alaina Aston
My current role is Vice President, Data Management & Governance in Personal and Commercial Banking at RBC. My career has spanned 22 years of management experience primarily in the Global Banking sector with a variety of roles held in London, New York, and Toronto. I hold a BA, Honours, in Economics from Carleton University and a Masters Certificate in Risk Management and Business Performance from Schulich School of Business. Outside of work, I have won gold medals at the National Rowing Championships of Great Britain and representing England and at University I captained the Varsity swim team; I love sports and supporting my two growing teenagers in their own love of sport in Toronto.

Recently, I joined the Board of the MERIT Award after spending time on the 2017 Selection committee; ‘Inspiring youth to pursue higher education and contribute to the community’ speaks directly to my charitable value grid – supporting Education to Employment charities. For a decade I was a member of an Executive Treasurer for the Canadian Women’s Club based in London, UK and for the past 5 years I have been an active member and former Chair of the Investment Committee for United Way Women Gaining Ground, now Women United; dedicated to supporting women’s philanthropy in the GTA.

Annie Finn
I received an MA in Political Science from McGill University in 1992 and an LL.B from Dalhousie University in 1995. After being called to the Ontario bar in 1997, I practiced as a litigation and dispute resolution lawyer at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP for over fifteen years. Throughout my career, I have demonstrated a strong commitment to education and mentoring, including working for several years as a senior program lawyer at The Advocates’ Society where I was responsible for designing and presenting skills-based advocacy education programs and workshops for lawyers.

I have volunteered for many years with the Merit Award Bursary Award program on the selection and alumni committees.

Debra Sandomirsky
My most recent corporate leadership role was the Chief Information Officer for Purolator, responsible for all information technology. Prior to Purolator, I spent 24 years at Accenture, holding leadership consulting roles. I am an avid leader of diversity, recognizing the importance of establishing a culture supporting a diverse workforce. I have an MBA from Queens University and a BSc from the University of Saskatchewan. I live in Toronto and have two girls ages 19 and 21.

In 2017, I volunteered to help with selecting Merit Bursary winners. I was amazed by the stories that I read! I’m excited to be a part of the Merit Bursary Board to make a difference in the lives of Toronto students.

Inge van den Berg
I am currently the Vice President of Strategic Insights at Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited, responsible for research and analysis, asset strategy plans and special projects. Before CF, I worked for Loblaw Companies Limited for eight years in a variety of leadership positions across corporate strategy, merchandising, corporate affairs and investor relations. Prior to Loblaw, I spent 13 years with global management consulting firms A.T. Kearney and Accenture, as well as Canadian Tire. I have an HBA and MBA from Ivey Business School at Western University and live in Toronto.

I volunteered to help select Merit Bursary winners in 2015 and the students’ stories personally resonated with me, so I sought out to get more involved. I remember the challenges of being a new immigrant to Canada and the remarkable difference receiving a university entrance scholarship of $1000 made to me. I want to help students continue their education goals and am honoured to be part of the board, helping with strategy and communications.

Jeff Harvie, Fund-raising

Jeff Harvie
I’m a passionate sales leader that has spent 24 years working inside or with financial institutions. In recent years I lead the global sales team for Recognia Inc. which exposed me to working with banks in Europe, Asia, and Australia.

I was first introduced to Merit by a former board member in 2008. Since joining Merit, my focus has been on helping fund the organization mission through corporate, foundation and event sponsored programs. I stay involved because I have had the opportunity to see the impact and the outcomes that Merit in the lives of our recipients.

Nelson Fryer
I was employed in the broader public sector in Human Resources for many years before retiring from St. Michael’s Hospital as Director of H.R. and Employee Relations in the summer of 2011. Subsequent to that, I’ve done some consulting at both the Rouge Valley Health System and the new site of Humber River Hospital with a focus on labour relations problems.

My education has all been in the GTA – starting in the old City of York at the (then) Vaughan Road Collegiate followed by York University, then post-grad H.R. courses at Seneca and Humber Colleges and finally leadership training at the Niagara Institute.

I began volunteering on the selection process with Merit in the spring of 2012. It is a most rewarding experience – recognizing the challenges and determination of so many students and providing the help through the foundation bursaries toward them continuing their education.

Peggy Hornell
I have more than 25 years in senior leadership positions in the not-for-profit sector, currently with Children’s Aid Foundation in the role of Chief Operating Officer.

Previously, I held the position of Executive Director for the President’s Choice Children’s Charity & Senior Director, Community Investment at Loblaw Companies Limited. Past work experience includes Community Funding Unit at the City of Toronto, Toronto Zoo Foundation, and Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation.

I’m a Certified Fundraising Executive and am active in the nonprofit sector – most recently as a Board member of Merit Award Bursary Program, puppy raiser for National Service Dogs and a member of Toronto Chapter Association of Corporate Grantmakers and the Toronto Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Ron Watts
I spent 14 years in advertising and 16 years in education. I’m married with three children and four grandchildren. I’m originally from Montreal.

Sabina Ghose
I have been a proud volunteer for Merit since 2015 when I volunteered as part of the selection committee, where I found the experience to be incredibly inspiring. Wanting to contribute more to Merit’s unique mission, I also joined the Board in 2015 as Treasurer.

I am a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CA). I currently work at Deloitte in their Risk Advisory practice focused on IT audit and risk management.

Tabitha Aquino, Events & Outreach Programs

Tabitha Aquino
I’m currently Senior Manager, Customer Experience Internet Gaming at OLG and formerly was the Director of Product Marketing and Business Development at a social CRM startup company. Prior to the start-up venture, I was a Sr. Marketing Manager at Deloitte & Touche LLP, managing marketing initiatives for the Tax and Technology, Media, Telecom (TMT) practice. I’m passionate about design and manage an interior design business. I’m also adventurous and enjoy riding on two wheels (motorcycles) and was formerly a motorcycle instructor with Rider Training Institute.

I’ve contributed in many ways as a volunteer with The Merit Award Bursary Program since joining in 2007. I organized and implemented the first Merit Awards Annual Ceremony in 2008 as a way to recognize and commemorate Merit Award recipients from across the GTA. This annual event allows recipients to share their accomplishments with their families and is a great networking opportunity. I also organize the annual Bowling for Bursaries Fundraiser, which has raised over $275K in 5 years for The Merit Award. http://meritawardbowling.ca/.

Tim Robertson, Creative & Communications

Tim Robertson
I work with clients in North America and Europe to develop content marketing and branding campaigns. I spend my free time with my family at our century-old cottage on Stoney Lake in the Kawarthas. I have been involved as a Volunteer Advisor for business development for CESO on both national and international projects.

I started with the Merit Award over 10 years ago to help with branding and technology initiatives.