Written by: Paige Riding, News Writer

Civil activist and former Member of Parliament (MP) Svend Robinson has been named the J.S. Woodsworth Resident Scholar in the SFU humanities department. This is for a one-year term beginning September 1, 2020, during which Robinson will teach a seminar and partake in community outreach events, according to SFU News.

Robinson served as MP for the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Burnaby from 1979 to 2004, serving seven consecutive terms. 

The Peak spoke with Robinson in a phone interview about what this new role means to him and how he believes his experiences as an activist and politician will lend themselves to an educating role.

“I’m really excited and looking forward to joining SFU as the J.S. Woodsworth Resident Scholar. I’ve never been an academic. I’ve only been an activist, and in the last 10 years a diplomat working internationally. So this is a new role for me,” Robinson began. 

“I had the honour of representing SFU for a little over 25 years as a Member of Parliament and worked closely with many different folks in the SFU community, be it teachers, students, staff, and now it’s great to be part of the community in a new role.”

When asked about the namesake of the position, Robinson noted how humbling it is to fill a role of a civil rights pioneer.

Woodsworth was the cofounder of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, a social-democratic party established in 1931 and dissolved in 1961. His political impact resonates today through the benefits available to Canadians, including Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan. This party was the predecessor of the NDP, the party for which Robinson represented.

“Woodsworth was a progressive activist in the best sense. He fought hard for the rights of working people, for labour, he was active during the Winnipeg General Strike. He actually did time in prison for his activism during the Winnipeg General Strike. We have something in common.”

Indeed, Robinson served time for civil disobedience from Clayoquot Sound in the 90s. Robinson’s activism led to his adoption into the Haida Nation amongst other acknowledgments. It is this shared history of activism that solidifies Robinson’s position as the J.S. Woodsworth Resident Scholar.

“I’m really looking forward to learning a lot myself at SFU,” he continued. “Obviously, I look forward to sharing with students and faculty and staff many of the experiences I had during my little of a quarter-century as a Member of Parliament.”

Robinson wishes to share some of his interests and experiences with the SFU community, including environmental concerns, Indigenous rights, the journey to equality for the LGBTQ2+ community, international human rights issues, and more. 

“I look forward to sharing those, but also to learning from the SFU community. It’s going to be a two-way street.”