Human rights advocate Fairweather dies

By on February 1, 2009

Gordon Fairweather, a former Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament from New Brunswick and the first chair of Canada’s Human Rights Commission, died Dec. 24 at the age of 85.

A lifelong member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Rothesay, N.B., Mr. Fairweather was first elected in the riding of Royal (later changed to Fundy-Royal) in 1962 and was re-elected five times. A tribute by the Globe and Mail’s political writer Jeffrey Simpson described him as “that rare bird of an opposition MP whom the government listened to and admired.”

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1977 appointed him chair of the newly created Canadian Human Rights Commission. The commission grappled with hate speech, ageism, access for the disabled and aid to Africa. He was one of only two MPs who tried to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977 to include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

He fought for wage parity for women and urged the CBC to hire more visible minorities. He was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1979. Outside Canada, he also served as an observer at elections in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Zimbabwe and Malaysia. His last political post was as the first chair of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board from 1989 to 1992.

St. Paul’s rector Albert Snelgrove said Rothesay is proud of all that Mr. Fairweather achieved in his life and career.

In the church, he served as a member of General Synod, a member of the synod for the diocese of Fredericton, on St. Paul’s vestry and as a Sunday school teacher.

“He really was a very devout fellow,” said Mr. Snelgrove. “He followed the life of the church, the issues of the church very closely.” Mr. Fairweather argued for the ordination of women and in 2005 sent a letter to the New Brunswick Anglican expressing his distress that his diocese had rejected General Synod’s resolution to affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed same-sex relations and stating that “inclusion rather than exclusion is what Christ asked of us.”

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