Svend Robinson (born March 4, 1952) is a Canadian politician, Canada's first openly homosexual elected official and a prominent activist for gay rights. He was a Member of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons from 1979 until 2004, when he resigned after confessing to committing a theft. He unsuccessfully sought to return to the House in the 2006 federal election.

Early lifeEdit

Robinson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States, of Danish descent to Edith Jensen and Wayne Robinson.[1] His father opposed the Vietnam War and brought his family to live in Canada. Under the dual-citizenship provisions of U.S. law, Robinson remains an American. He obtained a law degree from the University of British Columbia and completed post-graduate work at the London School of Economics. In 1972, he married his high-school girlfriend, but they divorced after he told her about his sexuality.


Robinson was the New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament (MP) for ridings in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, British Columbia, the third-largest city in British Columbia.

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 MP to come out as gay, in spring 1988. He has since been followed by other gay and lesbian politicians in Parliament: Bloc Québécois MP Réal Ménard, fellow New Democrats Libby Davies and Bill Siksay, and Liberal Party of Canada MPs Scott Brison and Mario Silva, as well as Senators Laurier LaPierre and Nancy Ruth.

Robinson ran to succeed Audrey McLaughlin as leader of the NDP at the 1995 NDP leadership convention, but withdrew in favour of Alexa McDonough after the first ballot even though he had received the most votes. Robinson realized that he could not defeat McDonough on the second ballot since most of the votes cast by supporters of third place finisher Lorne Nystrom would have gone to her.

Areas of political and activist involvementEdit

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 distrust of corporations and his criticism of Israel and that country's policies. Party leader McDonough removed Robinson's critic responsibility for Middle East issues in 2002 for comments he made about Israel after attempting to meet with Yasser Arafat. Robinson has also been negative towards the Chinese government for its treatment of political dissidents, and for its policies in Tibet.

Robinson was also involved in the Gustafsen Lake Standoff near 100 Mile House; fighting for the right of Sue Rodriguez to commit assisted suicide; the anti-logging protests at Clayoquot Sound; and the protests against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April 2001. Sometimes he has acted on his political beliefs without legal immunity; in 1994 he was jailed for 14 days for contempt of court regarding his Clayoquot Sound activities. In 1985 he had been fined $750 for similar actions on the Queen Charlotte Islands.

In November 1998, Robinson was injured in a hiking accident on Gabriola Island, breaking his jaw and one ankle. [1]

He was one of the NDP's most prominent MPs, and was particularly popular in his own riding due to the high level of activity of his community offices, and his decision to be open about his sexual orientation while holding political office. Although controversial, he was a respected figure in Canadian progressive and activist circles. His critics saw him as self-righteous and too leftist. The former NDP premier of Ontario Bob Rae (no longer a party member at the time) described Robinson as a "crank." Some have accused Robinson of bias against Israel, and in 2002 suggestions were made that his comments about Israel and the Middle East were anti-Semitic (although no public figure said so openly). Robinson has strongly denied being anti-Jewish. Some Canadian Jews, including Judy Rebick, publicly defended Robinson. [2]

Robinson was involved in the New Politics Initiative 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.

Robinson sponsored an amendment to Canada's hate-crimes law to include hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Opponents of the amendment believe that this amendment provides insufficient safeguards for those who voice their opinions about homosexuality from conscience or from religious beliefs. Robinson claimed that his amendment would not suppress conscientious objection. Some religious groups and civil libertarians oppose the amendment because it will limit their right to free speech. Robinson also drew controversy from religious Canadians in 1999 when he submitted a petition from the Humanist Association of Canada calling for the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be amended to remove its mention of God. [3] After which, Robinson was sent to the backbench. [4][5]

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.

Theft convictionEdit

On April 15, 2004, Robinson confessed to the theft (on April 9) of a ring valued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at $21,500 CAD. However, other quotes valued the item at $64,000. He claimed the theft was stress-related.

He announced that he was going on a medical leave of absence and was stepping aside as a nominated candidate in the 2004 federal election. He surrendered on April 14, and was formally charged with one count of theft over $5,000 on June 21. On August 6, he pleaded guilty and was ordered to continue receiving psychiatric counselling and perform 100 hours of community service. He was sentenced to a year's probation and 100 hours of community service, but will not have a criminal record, a sentence the Crown described as "appropriate." [6]

Robinson's long-time constituency assistant Bill Siksay was nominated in his place as NDP candidate for Burnaby-Douglas; Siksay won the riding in the federal election in June 2004.

On October 26, 2005, Robinson revealed that he suffers from bipolar disorder. He then explained that he was not making a direct correlation between mental illness and criminal activity and took full responsibility for his actions. [7] He attributed his mental health problems to the 1998 hiking accident.

Recent activitiesEdit

Robinson was an NDP candidate in the 2006 federal election, challenging Liberal MP Hedy Fry in the riding of Vancouver Centre, which had not had an NDP or Co-operative Commonwealth Federation MP since 1949. In December 2005, the Canadian magazine Maclean's featured Robinson on the cover and in an editorial, calling for voters to reject him. [8]. The following month, Robinson's candidacy was endorsed by the Vancouver newspaper The Georgia Straight.[9]. At the election, in which the NDP performed strongly in most British Columbia ridings, Fry easily won re-election. The NDP vote fell by 3.6% and the Liberal vote rose by 3.5%.

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. [10] It was rumoured that Robinson might be considering a run at provincial politics in the BC riding of Burnaby North.[11]

Robinson has taken a position with trade union federation Public Services International based in Paris, France, where he is moving with his partner Max Riveron.[12]

Awards and recognition Edit

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."

References Edit

  1. Svend Robinson has surgery after hiking accident. (1998-11-13). Archived from the original on 2008-01-23. Retrieved on 2007-07-19.
  2. Concordia students hold peaceful Mideast rally. (2002-11-16). Retrieved on 2007-04-31.
  3. ""God" and the charter of rights",, 1999-06-07. Retrieved on 2007-04-18. Archived from the original on 2005-03-24. 
  4. "Svend Robinson has been benched",, 1999-06-09. Retrieved on 2007-04-18. Archived from the original on 2007-03-12. 
  5. "Robinson disciplined for 'no-God' petition",, 1999-06-09. Retrieved on 2007-04-18. Archived from the original on 2007-03-12. 
  6. "No jail time for Svend Robinson",, 2004-08-06. Retrieved on 2007-04-18. Archived from the original on 2004-08-08. 
  7. "Svend Robinson speaks out about illness",, 2005-10-26. Retrieved on 2007-04-18. Archived from the original on 2006-05-22. 
  8. "Let's Svend him packing", Macleans, 2005-12-19. Retrieved on 2007-04-18. 
  9. "The Straight slate - Vancouver Centre", The Georgia Straight, 2006-01-19. Retrieved on 2007-04-18. 
  11. Holman, Sean (2007-03-31). Laugh about it, shout about it. Public Eye Online. Retrieved on 2007-04-18.
  12. Canadian Press. "Disgraced former MP moving to France", The Globe and Mail, 2007-04-18. Retrieved on 2007-04-18. Archived from the original on 2007-04-20. 

External links Edit

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