Lisa Swainston

Lisa Swainston

“We all live in this world together”

I have had the pleasure of working with Lisa for a number of years in both AI Community Group 18 and the Action Network for Women’s Human Rights (ANWHR). Her dedication to human rights is inspiring.

One of her many talents, one that others might not know about, is silk screening – put to good use in preparing the solidarity T-shirts for Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) a few years ago.

Nora Kerr


AI Member group 18 and ANWHR

In Lisa’s words:

“When I first joined Amnesty it was shortly after I had graduated university. In my mind, I was looking for a way to make a positive contribution to society. I think I had always been vaguely aware of Amnesty – I remembered seeing Tibetan monks on posters and banners hanging in the window of The Body Shop at the mall, when I was a kid, but didn’t really understand what it was all about. It wasn’t until I attended one of the monthly information sessions years later that I learned more about the organization and what I could do.

I joined a local community group and the Action Network for Women’s Human Rights) and I started taking action – writing letters, tabling at events and concerts, helping Amnesty monitor the Ipperwash Inquiry, participating in marches, and events like the Bowlathon and December 10th Writeathon.

This past year I became the Chair of Group 18 and recently the Secretary of AITO.

I’ve been volunteering with Amnesty for over 8 years now. I’m involved with Amnesty because it’s important. I’m lucky enough to be in a position to be able to speak out about human rights violations and injustices, without fear of oppression. There are many people in the world who aren’t in such a position, and so I feel like I have a responsibility to do what I can – big or small – to make a difference. We all live in this world together.”

Since Lisa Swainston joined my local Amnesty community group, Group 18, several years ago she has been very active taking on successively the Secretary role and now the role of Chair of our group. Early in her involvement with Amnesty International Lisa also joined the Action Network for Women (ANWHR).

It is such a pleasure to volunteer along side someone like Lisa who brings her enthusiasm, knowledge and skills to many Amnesty Activities in the GTA. Most recently Lisa has assumed the vital role of Secretary to AITO (Amnesty International Toronto Orgnaization).

Patricia M. Grenier


Treasurer, AI Gr. 18 and AITO, AITO Merchandise Co-ordinator


Mary MacRae

Mary MacRae

“Oh, you are Mary of the calendar…”

Mary is a volunteer with AI Canada’s refugee program. She began her work as a volunteer shortly after her retirement from …years of teaching. As a retired teacher, supporting the refugee program was a perfect fit. She was already familiar with working in a multicultural environment and with the stresses newcomers face adapting to life in Canada.

For 15 years Mary MacRae has listened to stories of pain on a weekly basis. In many cases she can only offer an empathetic ear to those who come to Amnesty International, hoping for so much more.

Mary’s faithfulness to her work with Amnesty and refugees makes her one of the extraordinary angels who walk the earth (and she doesn’t believe in angels)! She doesn’t expect accolades for her work, but quietly goes about her business, never knowing who might walk through the door or what story they carry. Amnesty International is a better place because of Mary MacRae. We are honoured to have her with us.

Gloria Nafziger


Former AI Canada Refugee, Migrants and Country Campaigner

In Mary’s words:

“When I retired from teaching, I did not miss the stress and chaos of a large high school. But I did miss my Amnesty club! It was a very multicultural school and our “Youth Campus Group” was active and popular.

We had students from many troubled countries who were amazed that we were safe and free enough in Canada to write letters to tyrants and dictators! We did several presentations to other schools and even had one of our meetings filmed for YTV. One of my students recently contacted me and showed up at the Toronto office looking to become involved again. That was a wonderful surprise!

My interest in human rights has grown even more with my work as a volunteer in the Refugee Network, and of course, sending out the “Calendar of Events” twice a month. These activities have made me very aware of the great activism in the GTA and the need to continue the good fight!”

This is what AI members say when they first meet Mary MacRae. And then, they thank her for preparing and sending out the AI Toronto e-calendar, on the 1st and15th of each month, without exception since… 1998!

Elena Dumitru


AI Canada Activism


Andy Buxton

Andy Buxton

Extraordinary leader and The Best AI T-shirts model

I remember meeting Andy at an Amnesty Annual Meeting years ago and discovering that he was on the verge of moving to Toronto. “Well”, I said, “The members there will be very glad of that!” How right I was. He became an extraordinary leader among us – on protecting human rights defenders in Colombia, on the use of tasers, in teaching youth about Amnesty, in coordinating membership activities (not the least was an AGM). Whenever Andy is involved, one can always be assured that event planning is in good hands. He continues to be an avid letter writer whether at group meetings, at public events, within the Urgent Action Network, or at Write for Rights. If he ever wears ordinary clothes, it might be hard to recognize Andy because he is The Best at wearing Amnesty’s promotional t-shirts in the summer and sweatshirts in the winter.

Marilyn McKim


AI Canada Urgent Action Coordinator

I first met Andy when he came to AITO having moved from Ottawa to Toronto. Andy had been an active member of his local Ottawa Amnesty community group and wanted to remain involved. He joined Gr. 63 in Toronto and soon became the group’s rep to AITO. Before long Andy was elected Chair of AITO. In that role Andy demonstrated many leadership skills, and assumed many volunteer roles in Toronto including chairing a few AGM local arrangement committees, speaking for Amnesty at schools in the GTA and becoming an eloquent, well-informed spokeperson on the taser issue- appearing many times in the media representing Amnesty Canada on the use of tasers by the police force.

As a Volunteer Merchandise Co-ordinator for AITO I really appreciated the many times Andy stepped up to the plate assisting me with merchandise sales at the annual December 10th Open Houses at the Toronto Amnesty office. One year when I could not attend the AGM in Winnipeg Andy generously volunteered to drive the merchandise to Winnipeg and look after all the details. On his return Andy remarked how much he enjoyed the experience because staffing a table at the AGM meant that you met and engaged with so many members across Canada (something I always appreciate). He remarked that he never enjoyed an AGM as much as that one.

I think that I speak for many in AITO when I say we truly miss Andy since he has moved with his family to Hamilton. Toronto’s loss is Hamilton’s gain! Thanks Andy for all you have done  and for all you do for Amnesty.

Patricia Grenier


AITO Treasurer

In Andy’s words:

“I first joined Amnesty International over 25 years ago when I learned that support for AI and human rights could extend well beyond simply donating to the movement.  My first involvement was as a member of AI group 5 in Ottawa.

After moving to Toronto I continued my involvement in human rights activism with group 63 and a variety of AITO branches including the Speakers Bureau, the new members orientation team, several regional meeting planning teams, and AITO itself, first as secretary and later as chair.  AITO twice hosted Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Toronto in recent years, and I chaired the local arrangements committee as well as serving on the national planning committee for these AGMs.

I fondly remember the time when I crammed a stockpile of AITO merchandise into my car and drove it to the AGM in Winnipeg, spending much of that weekend at the merchandise table.  “Before you feel sorry for him for ‘missing’ things, he insists that this is one of the best ways to participate at an AGM since you get to meet and talk to pretty well every attendee that way – everyone wants to check out what’s for sale.  (The drive through northern Ontario was spectacular too.)” 

The one thing I did most often in my decade in Toronto with AITO was to facilitate human rights seminars for students at dozens of local schools.  Clearly one imperative for human rights activists is to educate and involve youth in our work.  Outreach to students is a great (and fun) way to do this.

As well, I studied up on Amnesty International’s concerns over police abuses related to the use (and often overuse) of Tasers, taking these concerns several times to the Toronto Police Services Board.

This developed into a sideline in media work with dozens of radio and TV appearances and interviews.  I also debated a number of Taser supporters in the media, ensuring that AI’s concerns were heard loudly as part of the public debate.

Since my ‘retirement’ to Hamilton I have joined AI group 1 (group 1 was the first AI community group in Canada) and I continue to be an active part of the Amnesty International community.”


Parisa Samet

Parisa Samet

Wonderful team-player

In Parisa’s words:

“I started volunteering with Amnesty International because I felt it was my duty as a free person to help those who do not enjoy the same rights and freedoms as I do. After searching through organizations for a good fit I went to AI Iran action circle EID event three years ago and felt like I was in the right place.

Everyone at the AITO location has been nothing but inspiring and warm to me and I’m grateful all the time to be a part of this team. We’ve seen our actions for Nasrin Sotoudeh and Hamid Ghassemi pay off in huge ways. These are some examples of moments that keep me going.  Attending the AI Canada Human Rights College was also a point in which I understood how much activism changed the face of our world and how working together can save lives. Knowing that we are all working as a community in standing in solidarity is incredibly rewarding. All in all I find that I’ve been truly privileged in getting the opportunity to work with such wonderful inspiring people.”

Parisa joined our group three years ago. Ever since I’ve had the pleasure to know her both as a fellow volunteer and as a friend. Her commitment and passion is truly impressive. As the secretary of the Iran Action Circle she keeps our group running by diligently writing and sending out meeting minutes. As a volunteer she brings forth new ideas and accomplishes tasks with great enthusiasm.

One of the most memorable moments that I have of her is from our last Yalda poetry event. For this event attendees were encouraged to find and recite poetry on human rights. Many came with poems that they had found; Parisa came with a poem that she herself had wrote. The emotion with which she recited those beautiful verses made her dedication as a human rights activist all the more evident to me.

Shayan Edalati


Former chair of AI Toronto Iran Action Circle

Parisa is not only a delight to work with but also a kind-hearted individual. A wonderful team-player, she is ready to lend a hand where it’s needed even when she already has enough on her plate. Parisa brings energy and professionalism to the team and is undeniably a valuable member of Iran Action Circle in Toronto.

Nazila Nik


AI Toronto Iran Action Circle

Aubrey Harris

Aubrey Harris

Being a human rights activist is a way of life

Aubrey is an extremely passionate and hard-working human rights activist who has become an incredible resource and expert in the anti-death penalty movement. Aubrey is also an invaluable member of our Amnesty International family in Toronto who takes on very important leadership roles but is also willing to roll up his sleeves and pitch in wherever help is needed.

I have had the pleasure of working alongside Aubrey for over a decade and continue to appreciate his intelligence, warmth, humor and dedication. Aubrey’s dedication to Amnesty International is inspiring and I look forward to working with him for many years to come.

Bridgette Clark


member AI Toronto Indigenous Rights Action Circle

In Aubrey’s words:

“One November evening in 2000 I was approached by a young canvasser asking if I would support Amnesty International. I had been coming from a Remembrance Day ceremony and hadn’t expected to stop but when I heard “Amnesty” it struck a chord – I knew of Amnesty International and had for a number of years been doing my own research on the death penalty around the question of free will, justice and determinism. This was something I did on my own, stemming from interest in determinism when I was studying philosophy at university.

“Of course!” I said. I wasn’t making a lot of money in my job then, but I still signed-up as a monthly donor, giving a small amount each month and I signed-up for the Urgent Action Network. I specifically asked for death penalty related actions because of my interest.

When I joined I was ‘teamed-up’ with an experienced Amnesty member to help me with my first few letters. Susan Hoch mentored my letters and had one very good question for me to think about: What were my five main arguments against the death penalty? I wrote back about a page or two as I recall.

In 2004 I volunteered to help with the Toronto Regional meeting and had my first experience with Amnesty’s membership. I helped to organise a session on the death penalty with Iris Nowell. When the next regional conference came about I decided to try and run a session myself, which I tongue in cheek titled ‘Pro Patria Mori’ but while researching that session I found the Amnesty Canada listing for a new Coordinator on the Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty. I applied, competed, and I’m still doing it!

It is a way of life to be a human rights activist. There is a lot that inspires me in Amnesty International. I know that we are working for an undeniably good cause and joined by so many inspiring other members. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to represent Amnesty International as a Coordinator and to help within the senior volunteer levels on the Coordination Council of AICES. I am also privileged to be directly involved with some death penalty cases with worldwide attention.

I have sometimes said that as a coordinator, I feel like I am “Standing on the shoulders of giants” – but maybe a better metaphor is to be riding the crest of a wave in which we are all an equal part. When I represent Amnesty and speak on our behalf, I do so with the authority and reputation of the world’s largest human rights organisation and it is made up of people like you and me.

Amnesty International commands great respect. A couple of years ago I was asked to speak briefly at a special event for the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. There was a panel of experts and specialists at the event and until I rose to speak, few knew who I was. At the first break several people from the panel came straight to me to talk about Amnesty.

As a coordinator, I have been able to work with great staff, colleagues and other members. Each AGM, coordinator meeting, group talk, event, AITO or Branch Office visit I find invigorating because I can see that same enthusiasm for human rights in other people and it gives me great hope.

In my spare time, I work full time as a provincial civil servant and I find the time to play Australian Football for the Broadview Hawks Australian Football Club. I have in the past been involved with Team Canada for AFL, “Northwind” and I’ve had the advantage of many opportunities in my youth to learn leadership, teamwork and make friends all around Canada from when I was a Sea Cadet. I believe that experience has greatly helped my public outreach work with Amnesty International as a coordinator.”

I don’t often work closely with Aubrey, but I have found him to be the type of person who will be there for you in a pinch. Even if he’s not supposed to be helping at an Amnesty event, he will gladly assist when asked to lend a hand. It’s nice to know that there are people like Aubrey who you can turn to in last minute ’emergency’ situations.

Renee Saviour


AI Canada Board member


Patricia Grenier

Patricia Grenier

As a volunteer you are a tour de force!

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.)”

Patricia does a tremendous amount of work as Treasurer for both Group 18 and AITO, and that just scratches the surface of her dedication and commitment to the work of Amnesty. She’s also the force behind AITO’s wonderfully successful merchandise program. Every year she searches out new merchandise designs and ideas that are both creative and inspiring. Having been fortunate enough to work alongside Patricia at the AITO merchandise table at several AGMs, I’ve witnessed her awesome sales techniques. You can ask anyone – she knows what she’s doing and she’ s good at it!

Patricia was one of the first people I met when I joined Group 18. She was very welcoming and gave me a lot of guidance and support on ways to get involved with Amnesty and what it meant to be a member. And, she’s not only enriched my AI life, but also my cultural life with her extensive knowledge of literature, theater, and traveling!

Lisa Swainston


AI Group 18 and AI Toronto Action Network for Women’s Human Rights

Patricia Grenier is an Amnesty International Toronto Organization firecracker! She works tirelessly as the AITO Treasurer and Merchandiser for AITO products. Her volunteer commitment is critical in ensuring that AITO is a self-sustaining volunteer-run organization in the GTA committed to supporting AITO volunteers. Thank you so much Patricia for your dedication and commitment, as a volunteer you are a tour de force!

Shanaaz Gokool


Former AITO Chair


Michael Craig

Michael Craig

Human rights activist for over 40 years

Michael Craig, has been a political and human rights activist for over 40 years; he is grateful that he lives in Canada where criticizing governments is generally respected, not repressed. As a China coordinator for Amnesty International, Chair of a coalition – the China Rights Network – and as a member of a local AI group, Michael has helped to publicize the imprisonment and torture of political activists and ordinary citizens around the world.

‘Tireless’ might be the best word to describe Michael. He loves spending time with his grandchildren, has sailed across the Atlantic recently, and loves curling.

Judy Luginbuhl


AI Group 142 and former AITO Web Team member

I first met Michael in 1987 when he was making a video that included some footage of the AI Group 68 downtown. When a couple of AI Group 68 members and I started the new AI Group 164 in Riverdale, Michael was there pretty much from the start. Besides his China work, Michael has been activley involved in promoting Cities for Life, the annual AI Toronto anti-death penalty event.

Ian McNeil


AI group 164

Michael’s passion for human rights makes him an articulate and vocal activist in the Toronto area. He focuses on international human rights abuses, in particular human rights issues in China, and is well known within Chinese activist circles in the GTA. However, his activism is also grounded in the local and he has campaigned for a number of initiatives in his West Toronto community. He can be tough talking on the hard issues of human rights violations, but also remains a supportive and compassionate friend.

Well done Michael! I hope you will continue for many years to come to shine a light for Amnesty International!

Shanaaz Gokool


Former AITO Chair and friend of Michael


Marjorie Sheridan

Marjorie Sheridan

If laughter could sweep away repression Marjorie’s will lead the charge

Could there be anyone who more solidly typifies the very essence of what it is to be an Amnesty International activist, fully and selflessly committed to the cause of human rights, than Marjorie Sheridan. My first introduction to Marjorie was when she hosted a sumptuous reception for released Malawian prisoner of conscience Vera Chirwa some twenty years ago. Against the backdrop of fine food, lovely company and resplendent surroundings there was no mistaking Marjorie’s fiery resolve. marjorie

I knew that I would encounter her energy and fine spirit on many more occasions. And that I did. And always it has been Marjorie’s tireless willingness to set up the display table, promote the petition, give drives to other volunteers, help with the planning and so much more that has been at the heart of some of our best activism in Toronto for years. But above all else it is, of course, all about Marjorie’s laugh. If laughter could sweep away the walls of repression, Marjorie’s would lead the charge. Maybe with a martini or two thrown in for good measure! We all love you for who you are and what you do Marjorie. Thank you.

Alex Neve


Secretary General Amnesty International Canada

I have known Marjorie for a long time – probably since the late 1980’s or early 90’s when she used to organized big outreach opportunities throughout the city including downtown bank plazas, Yorkdale and Fairview malls and some conventions . She was running the merchandise programme and would load her van to full capacity with information literature, action items and lots and lots of merchandise. I helped at these tables on many of these occasions and it was a great pleasure to work with her. These events were very successful but we did get frustrated at one stage as all the T-shirts from Ottawa came only in large and extra large sizes which limited our sales. So we sent a petition to the Ottawa office in standard Amnesty language stating that the human rights of small and medium sized people were being abused and “urging” them to take immediate action. We did get a humorous reply in kind from AI board member Ian Heide.

With Group 74 Marjorie organized AI’s Afrofest booth for many years as well as other interesting events. I know too that she did an amazing amount of work helping sponsor refugees through her church.

Nora Kerr


member AI Toronto Group 18

Marjorie was her usual quirky, peppy self at her 80th birthday party. She looked great! I was honoured to celebrate the birthday of such a long-term, dedicated and very special volunteer. Way, way back in the early 80s, when I first joined Amnesty’s Group 74, I had the pleasure of meeting her. When she introduced herself to me, she said “I’m a nobody”. She’s always been oblivious to hierarchies or political power. She has never been a president, chair, vice-chair or coordinator, hence calling herself “a nobody”. But in reality Marjorie is a Spectacular Somebody! She was always too busy doing the work to hold a position! Every time I went to a fundraiser, picnic, protest rally or celebration, there was Marjorie, year after year after year, patiently sitting at a table selling AI cards, books, crafts or T-shirts. And, by the way, if you ever want to know how to coordinate a committee, chair a group or organize a protest, ask Marjorie! She’ll steer you in the right direction.

Jayne Patterson


AI Toronto “Dance for Justice” Chair


Donald Payne

Donald Payne

Facing the darkness of humanity with the deepest courage

I can’t recall when I first met Don Payne. He was already an essential part of Amnesty when I came to Toronto in 1985. He was also instrumental at the time in helping to set up the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, a worthy organization to which he still contributes his skills. In more recent years, we have worked closely together to deliver health-related actions to the Health Network.

Don has played a critical role, not only as the stalwart coordinator of the Health Network in Canada, but as a highly regarded professional at the international level as well. And in his career as a psychiatrist, he has helped many a survivor deal with their traumatic experiences. I have also treasured Don’s penchant for photography. We have profited from many a photo taken at Amnesty events through the years.

One of my favourite memories is of Don and me beetling it down the 401 to an AGM in his Volkswagen van. Topping that, perhaps, is his countless deliveries of homemade cookies on special occasions.

Marilyn McKim


AI Canada Urgent Action Network Coordinator

In Don’s words:

“I had been donating to Amnesty for several years before joining the Health Network (then the Medical Network) in 1979 when it was formed in Toronto. At that time, the Network centered on the assessment and treatment of torture victims. In 1982, I was appointed coordinator of the Network and expanded it to a national network with members across Canada.

Shortly after that, torture treatment centres opened in Toronto and later in other cities. They took over the torture victim work, leaving the Health Network to carry on with the core Amnesty issues such as opposing torture and the death penalty, and on health related issues.

Over the years I have lived though many changes in the Amnesty organization, many political changes in the world and changes in Amnesty’s style of functioning. I have attended AGMs with very heated discussions, one of the most heated being the 1989 AGM in Vancouver arguing over whether Amnesty should purchase a computer.

I have had the privilege of attending three international meeting of Amnesty Health Networks at the International Secretariat. I have continued my work as a psychiatrist with torture victims, providing assessments and treatment. I served a three year term as the elected Canadian representative to the international organization of torture victims, IRCT, in Denmark. I was proposed by Amnesty to provide expert testimony on torture at the Royal Commission regarding Mahar Arar. I have testified in Federal Court, and endured harsh cross-examination, in the cases of individuals on security certificates.

A highlight was meeting and photographing the Dalai Lama in 2003, and receiving a stole from him. My camera has been my companion at Amnesty AGMs and other Amnesty events. I have enjoyed seeing some of the pictures published.

I have a love for East Africa and have been active in visiting and supporting its development work there through Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR), with a focus on helping people help themselves. In the manageable weather I relax and exercise on my bicycle and in my kayak. I have been an active member of AI Group 123 – the Beaches where I am known for my homemade cookies. No admission without them.”

I have had the pleasure to know Dr Don Payne for the last thirty years within the Amnesty International Health Professions Network. This was about the time that Don, a psychiatrist, took over the national leadership of our group. Over these years, Don has sensitively guided the Medical Network’s configuration on the world’s stage, in a wider evolving Amnesty movement.

Don has a disarmingly gentle, kind skilful heartfelt way of communicating. The ability to listen and hear what is actually being said is his enormous power. To create a listening conversation anywhere, is a major feat when you realize that Don has faced the darkness of humanity with the deepest courage; he had a full-time practice, helped over one thousand survivors of torture along the way, as well as testified at a number of national and international highly politicized forums; speaking loudly and bravely for those who have been silenced, among many, many other initiatives.

It is with my deepest conviction I say that Don Payne is my hero.

Ken Agar-Newman


AI Canada Health Network

Of course many people know about Don’s experience and expertise in helping victims of torture recover from PTSD. Upon meeting him, you can’t help but be struck by his calm and caring demeanor.  But arguably, what Group 123 values most about him are not his knowledge or his gentle nature, but his baking skills! Don’s cookies are so good that even author Marina Nemat mentioned them in her memoir After Tehran. Sometimes, I wonder if the group would be so active if each monthly meeting wasn’t fueled by such cinnamon infused goodness.

Don is also an avid photographer. Over the years he has amassed an invaluable photographic history of AICES AGMs.

Renee Saviour


AICS(ES) Board and AI Toronto Group 123


Kara Dawson

Kara Dawson

“Live and Learn”

Words to describe Kara: kind, diplomatic, resourceful, warm, organized and intelligent. It has been a pleasure working with her, brainstorming wacky ideas like the sandwich boards we wore at the Beaches JazzFest. She has worked tirelessly to help get Hamid Ghashemi Shall out of Evin prison in Iran and back home in Toronto where he belongs. I am a better person for having known Kara and worked alongside her at numerous events. I look forward to continued insights and inspiration from her

Carolyn Meehan


AI member Group 123 (Beaches)

I met Kara Dawson for the first time in the fall of 2011 at Group 123, Beaches and soon realized what a beautiful energy she shares with the people around her. She is a fabulous coordinator who energetically helped spear head the Free Hamid campaign and at the same time showed her gentle understanding. I am very fortunate to know Kara, whom I consider a dear friend.

Antonella Mega


member AI group 123 (Beaches)

In Kara’s words:

“I have been a member of Amnesty International since 2007. Being new to the Beach at that time I was looking for a way to feel more connected to my community, by supporting a worthy local cause. Amnesty International Group 123 (The Beach) filled that void. After 3 years of being a member of Group 123, I took over as Coordinator for the local group.

Some of my highlights as an Amnesty International member for the past 5 years include the following:
• having met many compassionate and articulate individuals committed to human rights
• having attended two AI Canada AGMs (Montreal and Toronto)
• having viewed incredibly powerful human rights films at the Reel Awareness film festival
• having attended numerous AITO Regional meetings
• having learned that 1/3 of cases from the Rights for Write campaign saw positive action

I remain involved with Amnesty International due to the vital need to speak out for those who need a stronger voice. AI’s work provides me with a sense of feeling connected to both my local community and the global community at large. As well, I feels that AI provides me with an outlet to do my small part in trying to make the world a better place.”

Kara’s life motto: Live and learn!

Something people likely don’t know about Kara: she can sing the alphabet backwards.