40th anniversary of Equitas

Four decades in the fight for equality 
Equitas has helped shape advances in human rights, here and around the
world, through its education programs

The Gazette 
Monday, May 07, 2007 

In 1967, Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms was still 15 years away
and human rights commissions were only a figment of someone's imagination.

But the founders of Equitas - the International Centre for Human Rights
Education - were undeterred.

Four decades later, this small, plucky Montreal-based non-governmental
organization can take credit for strengthening the global culture of human

"We never imagined it would take on such a big role internationally," said
Paul-Andre Crepeau, an emeritus law professor at McGill University.

Last Thursday, Crepeau and others celebrated the 40th anniversary of the
group, formerly known as the Canadian Human Rights Foundation.

A cocktail party kicked off a three-day symposium that brought together
human rights leaders from 16 countries.

Ian Hamilton, the group's executive director, said the 40th anniversary
was an opportunity to showcase the group's history and accomplishments.

Besides Crepeau, the group's founders included John Humphrey, a former
McGill University law professor and chief architect of the United Nations
Declaration on Human Rights.

"They were doing this work before law schools in Canada were even teaching
human rights," Hamilton said.

In Canada, he said, the group worked to raise awareness about the rights
of the aged, the disabled, women and other disadvantaged groups.

When that was done, he said, the group turned to the international stage.

To date, Equitas has educated more than 3,000 trainees, 500 of them
Canadian, to identify and rectify human rights violations.

Last year, more than 120 participants from 60 countries, including
Bahrain, Iraq, Egypt, Indonesia, Chile and India, attended the group's
annual International Human Rights Training Program at John Abbott College
in Ste. Anne de Bellevue.

Signalling a return to Canada, in 2003, the group developed a summer day
camp program to teach children, age 6 to 12, fairness, inclusion and

Last year, Play It Right was used by camp directors and counsellors at 86
city of Montreal and borough day camps. This summer, the program will be
introduced at municipally run camps in five more Canadian cities.

Elena Ippoliti, a human rights officer with the United Nations Office of
the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, said the group's work
has fuelled the international movement.

"You can see their impact," said Ippoliti, who was in town for the
three-day symposium, co-sponsored by the UN.

Last year, she said, she met an 8-year-old boy in Tamil Nadu, a province
in southern India, who is a perfect example of how the group works to
change entrenched attitudes and discrimination.

The boy's teacher had been trained by People's Watch Tamil Nadu, a group
that sends workers to Equitas's International Human Rights Training

The boy realized after learning about gender equality that his baby
sister's life was in danger in his own home - and that it was wrong.

When his pleas to save his sister were ignored by his parents, he implored
his teachers to help.

Thanks to him, Ippoliti said, the little girl's life was spared and there
has been public discussion about female infanticide in the village.

"I like this story," Ippoliti said. "It tells you that human rights
education is empowering."

 The Gazette (Montreal) 2007

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