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Jennifer Wade, lifelong human rights champion and co-founder of Vancouver’s chapter of Amnesty International, remembers her earliest experiences with standing up for others taking place in the schoolyard, where as a young girl she took it upon herself to defend bullied children.
This early inclination for justice, instilled by a Scottish mother who believed strongly in fairness, led to a lifelong journey championing justice and helping those in need. In recognition of her humanitarian work, Wade will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from Simon Fraser University this summer.
“It’s really a wonderful surprise, because so much of what I do I don’t consider newsworthy,” says Wade. “I just try to speak up for people who, for whatever reason, can’t speak up for themselves.”
With a mother who encouraged standing up for others and a father who worked overseas as a doctor serving in the British military, service to others was a value in Wade’s home. It was no surprise, then, that when she first learned about Amnesty International in its founding year of 1961 while studying in London, she joined up right away.
“I was so impressed by the power of the pen,” says Wade, who went on to later co-found the Vancouver chapter of Amnesty International. They began meeting at West Point Grey United Church in 1974, and the group to which Wade belongs still meets every month to write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience all over the world.
But Amnesty only makes up 10 to 15 per cent of Wade’s work. Mostly, she works with people who need help—of which there are many. In fact, almost every day there are people who contact Wade, asking her for help. “There were two urgent requests this morning,” she says.
One of the cases on which Wade is working is that of Dr. Wang Bingzhang, the Chinese political activist and founder of two Chinese pro-democracy movements who is currently a political prisoner in China serving a 55-year sentence.
“It’s important that we focus on never taking democracy for granted,” says Wade. “It’s something on which each generation has to work hard.”
Wade has set up scholarships or awards at numerous institutions, including the YWCA, Langara College, Vancouver Community College (VCC), Capilano University, SFU’s own Scottish Studies, and many more, to assist students in need—an undertaking that gives her great satisfaction.
In 2017, Wade received the Order of British Columbia, the highest honour the B.C. Government can bestow upon a citizen, mainly for her work in human rights and her philanthropy.
Looking back on a lifetime of helping others, Wade can say that she didn’t do it alone, but rather always with the help and support of her family and others.
She emphasizes the importance of being kind to one another: “Always focus on perseverance and kindness.”