In Patricia’s words:
“I joined Amnesty International in 1988. If I reflect on why I believe in Amnesty International and what has kept me here year after year is that I never want to be complacent about the liberties and freedoms that I enjoy living in this country. It is so basic to me that I can vote, join, protest peacefully, travel safely, hold my political beliefs and sign a petition without fear of detention, torture, coercion, physical or psychological abuse, even death. These are things that I can easily take for granted. These are things not enjoyed by many people across the world.
I went to my first community group meeting (AI Gr. 18) with very little knowledge of AI except that it was a human rights organization and my ex-husband donated to it. I had moved to Toronto and wanted to get involved in some meaningful volunteer work. I had decided to investigate both Amnesty and the local Distress Centre phone line service. I went to both organizations and Amnesty stuck. At my first meeting I recall that the then Chair, William Deacon, was pleading with someone, anyone, from the group to take over as Chair. Apparently he had been telling the group for a few months that he had to step down.
He wasn’t getting any takers. I timidly asked what would be required of a Chair and of course all 28 people in that room leaned forward eagerly and said “not much”.
William was profoundly relieved and I privately thought: “what have I gotten into!”
There is one truism: taking on tasks immediately forces you to learn very quickly. I attended the AGM in Montreal that year, clueless about what an AGM entailed and overwhelmed by the resolutions. I remember on the first day Michael Bossin, one of the lawyers in the group, told me that I had to get our group together to caucus urgently about some resolution of great import. Talk about being out of my depth! The Gr. 18 contingent at that time included not only Michael, a future AI President, Faye Sims, the AI Refugee Coordinator, the immediate Past President of AI Canada, Michael Schelew, the-to-be President of AI Canada, Paul Bentley, elected at that very AGM, and a team of very experienced members, and then there was naïve me. I spent all the plenary sessions sitting beside Michael S. whom I peppered with questions throughout the entire proceedings. It was a very raucous AGM as I recall.
The next year I traveled to the Vancouver AGM where Paul B. and Michael B. talked me into running for the AI Canada Board. I spent three years on the Executive as a Director. I remained as Chair of AI Gr. 18, and also was part of a group of members in Toronto who were trying to organize a dying Toronto umbrella group which eventually became AITO and which has been going strong ever since.
My role in AITO at that time was as the National Board representative and of course the rep. from Gr. 18. In those early years, AI undertook two international mandate reviews. I chaired both of the Toronto teams. The mandate statement drafted by the Toronto team was adopted by AI Canada and then served as the basis at the international level for a revised Mandate statement. Once I had left the National Board I became very active at the local level. I found and find this personally very satisfying.
I stepped down as Chair of my group and became treasurer, and because no one wants to be treasurer, I was talked into taking over as AITO treasurer when the treasurer at the time wanted to step down. Luckily an AI member who was a bookkeeper partnered with me and automated the accounting. Alas, when after a few years she too wanted to step down as bookkeeper and we couldn’t find a replacement, I was cajoled into assuming that role. Well thank you Martha Huska for being a good teacher and for holding my hand all those years as I tried to wrap my non-mathematical brain around the mysteries of accounting!
There is a pattern here. Soon the Merchandising coordinator wanted to step down along with her right hand people. Nancy Cameron convinced me I could do this and she would help me. I have since then learned to say “No” many times.
I can’t thank enough, nor sing the praises too highly, of all the wonderful volunteers and staff I work with on virtually a daily basis. What makes Amnesty International very strong and very viable is the enormous dedication of its members and staff. I am the luckiest person to have worked with and to continue to work with people like: Paul Santamaura, Martha Huska, Wayne Smith, Andy Buxton, Patrick Furey, Richard Elliott, Richard Steinke, Nancy Cameron, Elena Dumitru, Shanaaz Gokool, Lisa Swainston, Nora Kerr, Michael Bossin, Paul Bentley, Michael Wilkshire, Ian Heide, Margaret John, Rosemary Oliver, Cheryl Rooney, Grace Wu, Gloria Nafziger, Ravi Sreedharan, Beth Berton-Hunter, and many, many more.
I am humbled by the dedicated –Alex Neve – and the strong – Antonella Mega- people I have been privileged to meet through Amnesty. (To name only two.)”