Submitted to The Record
Svend Robinson has made headlines across the country for both trailblazing and notorious actions in his political career.
In 1988, he became Canada’s first politician – and one of the first public figures – to come out as a homosexual.
At the other end of the spectrum, in 2004, he fell out of favour in the political world for stealing an expensive diamond ring.
But Robinson has always been involved with much more throughout his life. And the “ring thing” may have been the end of his political career, but not the end of his advocacy for the issues he cares about. That event, which led to his diagnosis of hypomania, a mild form of bipolar disorder, added mental health to the range of issues he chooses to address.
The Fifth Annual Campagnolo Lecture, on Thursday, Feb. 25 at NIC’s Stan Hagen Theatre at 7:30 will bring his thinking on mental health and restorative justice to the Comox Valley.
His lecture is entitled: “Broken Minds and Broken Laws: Restoration and Justice.”
It will reflect his experience and understanding of the possibilities of restorative justice when encountering mental health concerns.
At the Comox Valley Community Justice Centre, a quarter of all files have significant elements of mental health and/or addictions issues.
Prior to his withdrawal from federal political work, Robinson was engaged in many areas of Canada’s and the world’s social fabric.
His passions obliged him to take forceful public positions on issues like environmental preservation and the authority of Aboriginals here in B.C., and with the Penan indigenous peoples in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Over the course of his career, Robinson has steadily pursued what he sees as just and right relationships between people, places, and ideas.
He has championed environmental protection on Haida Gwaii and in Clayoquot, always with the invitation of, and in collaboration with, the First Nation on whose traditional territory the action would be carried out.
Robinson has been active in the right to physician-assisted death and was present at the death of Sue Rodriguez, on Feb. 12, 1994.
In his media interview following the event, he was questioned about his role as a Member of Parliament and the duty to uphold the law.
He replied: “The highest duty of a Member of Parliament is love.”
His work for protecting gay rights in the Charter in 1991 was unsuccessful, but again, being ahead of his time, he had to wait. In 1995 the Supreme Court read sexual orientation rights into the Charter.
Likewise, pension rights for same sex couples, the abolition of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the Canadian military, and finally, the Supreme Court order that same-sex couples could legally marry in 2005 paved the way for his own quiet wedding to Max Riveron in 2007.
But the crowning achievement of his work for gay rights, in his own view, is the fact that his private member’s bill, C-250, not only passed the House of Commons, but also the Senate and was given Royal Assent in April, 2004. It added sexual orientation to the grounds included in the Criminal Code sections relating to the promotion of genocide and the public incitement of hatred.
Robinson’s extraordinary career was based on his adoption of a set of views which were years ahead of his time.
He has worked in the areas of progressive social change all his life.
Following his retirement from politics in 2004, Robinson publicly acknowledged his own mental health issue and took up mental health as an additional one of his advocacy concerns.
Robinson now works for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, based in Geneva.
As Senior Specialist for Parliamentary Affairs, he is responsible for relations with the legislatures of donor and recipient nations, co-ordinating the country donations of the funding needed (more than $22 billion in the 10-year span from 2002 – 2011).
The Global Fund, founded by former UN Secretary General Koffi Anan and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, is now recognized as one of the most effective and reputable international agencies working to bring healing to the most vulnerable populations of the world.
On April 18, 2004, Robinson received a lifetime achievement award from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.
His biography, Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics was published in 2013.
Tickets for the Fifth Annual Campagnolo Lecture are available at Laughing Oyster Books or online through http://bit.ly/1Vidmmg
A limited number of tickets are available at $10 each.