|Svend Robinson at the January 2003 NDP convention in Toronto|
|Member of Parliament for Burnaby|
|Preceded by||new district|
|Succeeded by||riding dissolved|
|Member of Parliament for Burnaby—Kingsway|
|Preceded by||new district|
|Succeeded by||riding dissolved|
|Member of Parliament for Burnaby—Douglas|
|Preceded by||new district|
|Succeeded by||Bill Siksay|
March 4, 1952 |
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
|Political party||New Democratic Party|
|Spouse(s)||Patricia Fraser (divorced, 1978); Max Riveron (partner, 1994-present)|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (October 2009)|
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (February 2011)|
Svend Robinson (born March 4, 1952) is a Canadian former politician. He was a Member of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons from 1979 to 2004, representing the suburban Vancouver-area constituency of Burnaby for the New Democratic Party. When he chose not to run again in the June 2004 election, he was one of the longest-serving members in the House of Commons, having been elected and re-elected for seven consecutive terms.
Robinson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States, of Danish descent to Edith Jensen and Wayne Robinson. His father opposed the Vietnam War and brought his family to live in Canada. Robinson attended high school at Burnaby North Secondary. He later obtained a law degree from the University of British Columbia and completed post-graduate work in international law at the London School of Economics. He was awarded the highest overall honour at the University of British Columbia in 1972, the Sherwood Lett Memorial Scholarship. He was also active in university politics, serving on the Senate and the first student to be elected to the university Board of Governors. He was called to the BC Bar as a barrister and solicitor in 1978 and practised law with Robert Gardner and Associates until his election to the House of Commons in May 1979.
As the longest-serving British Columbia MP of his time, in office from 1979 to 2004, Svend Robinson is notable for having been the first Canadian MP to come out as gay, in the spring of 1988. He has since been followed by other gay and lesbian politicians in Parliament: Bloc Québécois MPs Réal Ménard and Raymond Gravel, fellow New Democrats Libby Davies and Bill Siksay, Progressive Conservative (later Liberal) MP Scott Brison, and Liberal Party of Canada MP Mario Silva, as well as Senators Laurier LaPierre and Nancy Ruth. Robinson has received many awards and honours for his work in Canada and internationally for LGBT rights and in 2009 was the Co-Chair of the Copenhagen OUTGames International LGBT Human Rights Conference. He successfully sponsored legislation in Parliament in 2004 to include "sexual orientation" in hate crimes legislation. He was also active on HIV/AIDS issues from the start of the epidemic in the early 1980s.
Robinson ran to succeed Audrey McLaughlin as leader of the NDP at the 1995 NDP leadership convention, but withdrew in favor of Alexa McDonough after the first ballot, even though he had received the most votes at the convention and had won regional primaries in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.
After stealing an expensive ring at an auction in Vancouver on June 22, 2004 (and returning it to the police a few days later), Robinson announced in an emotional news conference that he would be on temporary medical leave from his job as an MP. Robinson was charged with theft of over $5,000. The matter eventually was wrapped up amicably, with Robinson not receiving a criminal record. Robinson attempted a political comeback in the 2006 federal election but was defeated in Vancouver Centre in his attempt to unseat Liberal Hedy Fry.
Areas of political and activist involvement
Robinson, a self-described socialist, is commonly regarded as being one of the most left-wing figures in Canadian politics. He is best known for his negative views on American foreign policy, especially towards Cuba, his challenge of corporate power, his strident criticism of Israel, and his strong support for Palestinian leaders. Party leader McDonough briefly removed Robinson's portfolio over Middle East issues in 2002 for comments he made criticizing the Israeli government for alleged war crimes in Jenin.
One of his earliest political activities was leading a group of NDP MPs who heckled former US President Ronald Reagan while he was speaking at the House of Commons in support of the Strategic Defense Initiative and aid to the Contras. He was a long-time activist in the anti-apartheid movement and was a member of the official Canadian delegation to the 1994 South African election. Robinson has also been critical of the Chinese government for its treatment of political dissidents and for its policies in Tibet. He was a founder of the Canadian wing of Parliamentarians for East Timor. He was active in international Parliamentary groups, including serving as Rapporteur and Chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly Human Rights and Development Committee.
Robinson was a leader in the movement for the right to physician-assisted suicide, fighting for the right of well-known ALS patient Sue Rodriguez to choose when to end her life with the assistance of a physician. He was ultimately present at her bedside at the time of her physician-assisted death. A strong environmentalist, he engaged in peaceful civil disobedience to block logging of old-growth forests at Lyell Island in Haida Gwaii in 1985 and at Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1993. For the latter action, he was sentenced to 14 days of imprisonment. Robinson was an outspoken advocate of the rights of aboriginal peoples both in Canada and internationally. He stood at barricades with the Penan people in Sarawak, Malaysia and was condemned by Prime Minister Mahathir. He was adopted into the Haida Nation, and given the Haida name "White Swan" by his adopted Haida mother, respected elder Ada Yovanovich. In December 1997, Robinson was injured in a hiking accident on Galiano Island, breaking his jaw and ankle.
Robinson was involved in the New Politics Initiative, an effort to build a new progressive political party in Canada closely linked with social movements and labour, and the NDP's renewal process, although he remained committed to the party after the NPI's defeat at the 2001 general convention in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was an early and strong supporter of former National NDP Leader Jack Layton. In 2003, Liberal Senator Jerry Grafstein suggested that September 11 be designated as "America Day" to commemorate the American victims of September 11, 2001. Robinson proposed that the day also be designated as "Chile Day", to mark the overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende's democratically elected government on September 11, 1973. Neither proposal was accepted.
Following his retirement from politics in 2004, Robinson was employed by the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union as an advocate on behalf of public sector workers. He also served on the NDP's federal executive and as co-chair of the party's LGBT Committee. Robinson took a position in 2007 with a global trade union federation Public Services International based in Ferney-Voltaire, near Geneva in the French Alps, where he moved with his partner Max Riveron and their two dogs. He led PSI's work on a range of issues including climate change, pensions, and trade.
He is currently a consultant with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, based in Geneva, Switzerland, coordinating their Parliamentary relations.
Admission to theft and end of political career
In April 2004, shortly before the federal election, Robinson admitted to the theft of an expensive ring from a public auction site. He turned himself in to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and returned the ring shortly after police visited his home and office, wishing to speak with him. While the auction company publicly stated that they did not wish to pursue charges, Robinson was charged and pleaded guilty. The Crown and defence both agreed that he was undergoing major personal stress and mental health issues at the time; Robinson was given a discharge, meaning that he would have no criminal record. He terminated his candidacy and was replaced by his long-time assistant Bill Siksay, who won the election.
Robinson attempted a comeback and ran as an NDP candidate in the 2006 federal election, challenging Liberal MP Hedy Fry in the riding of Vancouver Centre. Despite an improved result for the NDP province-wide, Fry easily won re-election in her riding where the NDP vote fell by 3.6%.
Since leaving politics, Robinson was employed by the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union as an arbitrator and advocate. He also served on the NDP's federal executive as co-chair of the party's LGBT Committee.
Robinson took a position in 2007 with the global trade union federation Public Services International based in Ferney-Voltaire, near Geneva in the French Alps, where he moved with his partner Max Riveron and their two dogs. He led PSI's work on a range of issues including climate change, pensions, and trade.
He is currently a consultant with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, based in Geneva, Switzerland, coordinating their parliamentary relations.
Svend Robinson: A Life In Politics, written by Graeme Truelove, was released on October 17, 2013 (New Star Books). Praise for the book included words from Stephen Lewis and David Suzuki. Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said "This remarkable biography is a tour de force. The content is gripping, Svend is a phenomenon, the anecdotes leap from the page and the writing is exceptional. The text abounds with political and personal revelations. As a slice of left versus right in Canadiana, you could not do better." Suzuki, author, broadcaster and world-renowned environmentalist, said "Svend Robinson's life story serves as an uplifting inspiration, a model of the kind of politician we so desperately need."
Awards and honours
- L'Ordre de la Pleiade, Chevalier, 1990 For exceptional service to La Francophonie
- Award for Human Rights, May 1993 Lambda Foundation.
- The Edith Adamson Award for Leadership in Issues of Conscience in 1995.
- Elena Gil Iberoamerican Award on Ethics, June 1995 Felix Varela Centre, Cuba.
- Tom Stoddard National Role Model Award, May 1997 presented by PrideFest America.
- Hero Award, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in August 1999 by The Canadian Bar Association.
- Presidents Award, 2003 Canadian Arab Federation.
- Kurdish Human Rights Prize, Adar 2614.
- Grand prix du CQGL 2009, decerned by Conseil québécois des gais et lesbiennes at Gala Arc-en-Ciel
- Panelist at the conference to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, discussing "The Making of s.15: Collaboration by Government, Community Activists and Legal Experts."
- Member of Canadian Committee for 50th Anniversary of United Nations, 1995
- Joan M. Gilmour, "Death, Dying and Decision-Making about End of Life Care" in Jocelyn Downie et al (eds), Canadian Health Law and Policy (Canada: LexisNexis, 2007), page 471
- "MP Svend Robinson admits theft, takes stress leave". CBC News. 16 April 2004. Retrieved 7 April 2011.