SFU News

Former NDP MP Svend Robinson to receive honorary degree from SFU

May 30, 2023

Svend Robinson, renowned community leader, activist, and one of the longest-serving MPs in Canadian history, will be presented with a Doctor of Laws degree, honoris causa, at next week’s convocation ceremony on June 6 at 2:30PM. Robinson was nominated by Global Humanities’ department chair, David Mirhady. The recognition will be joining an already impressive list of merits that include the Lambda Foundation’s Award for Human Rights, Canadian Bar Association’s Hero Award, and Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee Medal.

The honorary degree is the highest honour conferred by SFU and, in Robinson’s case, awarded to distinguished individuals in recognition of their “exceptional contribution to the public good, through professional or philanthropic activity.” Exceptional indeed as he was, and still is, often in the vanguard of social and political change: he was the first openly gay MP and still is the only MP to be imprisoned for civil disobedience when he stood in solidarity with Indigenous peoples at Clayoquot Sound in 1993. He is also a long-time supporter of the anti-apartheid movement, an advocate of old-growth forests and the right to die with dignity, and a critic of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinian peoples.

As one of this year’s honorary degree recipients, Robinson upholds the university’s values and serves as both an inspiration and role model to its students, graduates, and community. A high honour and responsibility that he is adept at taking on having spent more than 25 years (1979–2004) representing, in Ottawa, the riding where SFU’s main campus is housed. In fact, his affiliation with SFU extends beyond his years as MP. Robinson unpacks this close relationship as he reflects on what the honorary degree from SFU means to him:

“I am so honoured and humbled by this recognition, which means the world to me. I have had deep connections to the SFU community for more than five decades: my father was a charter faculty member in the Department of English in 1966; my partner, Max, was a student at SFU when he came to Canada from Cuba; I represented the SFU community for over 25 years as Burnaby’s MP (and attended many Convocation ceremonies during that time); and I had the great privilege of being the J. S. Woodsworth Resident Scholar from 2020–21, which allowed me to work with a wonderful group of colleagues and meet (sadly, only virtually) many great students. This is also an amazing affirmation of many of the struggles that I have engaged in over the years for economic, social, and environmental justice.”

To Robinson, working towards this better, more just world is a lifelong commitment:

“My years as an MP were an important part of this journey and I hope to continue doing what I can as long as I live. I approached my role as an MP as an activist and tried to not allow being a parliamentarian to limit that work; rather, I used my profile and stature as MP to help give voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. Even now as I start a new chapter in my life, the objective remains the same.”

True to his words, Robinson’s new chapter is a commission by survivors of the LGBT Purge to write the history of the purge of gay and lesbian people in the Canadian military, RCMP, Foreign Service, and other public sectors, further proving himself worthy of the honorary degree. For him, this commission “is an exciting and important opportunity to share the story of this shameful chapter in our history, the lives that were shattered by these policies and the courage and resilience of those who fought back,” one that will keep him busy for the next couple of years as he reviews historical documents and interviews key players.