Sharmila Setaram

Sharmila Setaram

Super human rights activist

I first met Sharmila at the 2000 AI Annual General Meeting during an icebreaker which she attended as a youth delegate. She made an impression on me immediately with her wonderful smile and friendly demeanour. Since that time, I have had the privilege of working Sharmila in the Fieldworker program and making a dear friend. Her strength of character, passion, commitment and determination make her a great Fieldworker, Vice-President of the Executive Committee and most importantly a super human rights activist.

Corinne de Reland


AI Canada Fieldworker

Sharmila’s commitment to and knowledge of human rights issues, and of the Amnesty movement, continues to inspire me. She is a creative, insightful thinker. She is a strong leader, an extremely supportive team member, and a great planner. I am very glad to have had the opportunity to get to know her through her work at AITO and on the Executive Committee!

Margaret Flynn


AI Canada EC Board member

In Sharmila’s words:

“I became involved with Amnesty International in high school – and I remember my first trip to the Toronto Office. I was nervous and overwhelmed but successfully managed to get a photo collection that documented the abuse of street kids in India. It was a cool experience. I put these posters up in my social science class and gave a presentation as part of a school project. At the time I was very interested in the rights of women and children and beginning to learn about female genital mutilation which I continue to find very disturbing. I was honoured with a Humanitarian Award in high school for my involvement with Amnesty International. I didn’t make the award show because I was busy having a life changing experience at Amnesty’s first Human Rights College. It was amazing to be surrounded by other youth from across Canada who were passionate and knowledgeable about human rights issues – I had never felt this kind of connectedness.

Fast forward 15+ years and I’ve taken on many roles from being involved with my group at the University of Waterloo; to becoming a Fieldworker and enabling and supporting the activism of others’; to an elected delegate to the International Council Meeting and now as a board member responsible for the overall governance of the organization. I don’t always have the chance but I love getting out to the schools and community to deliver workshops to help inspire others to take action towards a better world.

I have had the privilege to meet several human rights defenders over the years and I cannot fathom the courage it takes to fight for what is right in an environment where their lives and the lives of their family and community are often at risk. This renews and drives my passion and commitment to support whatever education, campaigns, and leadership I can to collectively have the greatest impact possible in securing human rights for all.

To keep balanced I have guilty pleasures like waiting in line to meet Hulk Hogan – that seemed to be hit on facebook from my friends and Amnesty family. I love travelling and climbing up mountains no matter how slow”.

“I first met Sharmila in 1999, at Amnesty’s first Human Rights College (HRC) for youth. At that time, Sharmila was a student leader of the Amnesty club in her high school. I was really impressed with the passionate way that she approached social justice issues. At the time, I was just starting to work on our Branch’s diversity program. I noticed that Sharmila had volunteered to facilitate a discussion on diversity and human rights with her fellow HRC students, and I decided to sit in. I was blown away by her facilitation skills, her commitment towards cultural diversity, and her courage in challenging discriminatory attitudes. I remember thinking: “I wish I could insert Sharmila into various programs and structures in Amnesty, so that she can continue to challenge us as we carry out our diversity work.

Well, my wish became true. Sharmila was involved in the HRC Planning Committee the following year and led sessions at subsequent HRCs. She joined the Fieldworker Program, and became the Chair of the Fieldworker Coordinating Committee from 2003-2005. I had the pleasure of working directly with Sharmila during that time. I was impressed with her leadership skills, with her ability to handle all the things thrown at her (including dealing with conflicts), and her analytical skills in helping us transition the Fieldworker program into the vibrant program that it is today. Sharmila chaired a number of working groups, including a working group that proposed many changes that helped AI Canada to fully value and include youth at all levels of the organization. This model has now expanded into the international levels of Amnesty.

Sharmila was elected by our membership to represent our Branch at two International Council Meetings (2007 ICM held in Mexico and the 2009 ICM held in Turkey). Now that she is on the EC, she is a member of our Diversity Committee as the EC rep; and I feel that we have come full circle.

My fondest memories of Sharmila include the time that the two of us were chosen to attend an Amnesty meeting on activism in Paris. This was the first time that Sharmila had travelled overseas, so I wanted to make sure that I could help her make her way from the airport to our meeting place. My flight from Ottawa arrived a couple of hours before her flight from Toronto; so we had arranged to meet at the airport. When Sharmila emerged from passport control, the breadth of her smile was matched by her ginormous red suitcase! We managed to lug that suitcase through the Paris subway system, to the Amnesty office in Paris, onto the train to Marly le Roi, and on our return, throughout Paris.

When I think of Shamila, I always see her with a big smile and a glint in her eyes; ready to take on the world in the cause of human rights for all.

Lily Mah-Sen


Former Activism Coordinator, AI Canada


Shayan Edalati

Shayan Edalati

The kind of person you want to have in your team

Shayan faithfully showed up at the AI Toronto Iran Action Circle meetings from the beginning in 2010. In July 2010 he volunteered to be secretary for the group. It was great. I’m always delighted when someone willingly volunteers to take on a leadership role, and no arm twisting is involved. For the next two years the group always had a reminder and agenda for upcoming meetings; and minutes posted promptly after the meeting. It may not seem like a big deal, but the regular communication to all members of the group was one of the things that helped the group stay on track. Everyone was included and informed. In 2012 Shayan agreed to be chairperson of the group; no arm twisting necessary. While Shayan came to Amnesty in order to help promote human rights in Iran, he has shown a passion for human rights across the board. He has taken advantage of opportunities to learn and contribute to activities within AITO, eventually leading to the position of director at large for AITO. Shayan brings good common sense, reliability, warmth and a passion for human rights to Amnesty International. I know he will help us keep the candle burning for many years to come!

Gloria Nafziger


Former Iran Campaigner, AI Canada

Shayan is the kind of person you want to have in your team. He is dependable and through. He faces challenges with a positive attitude and accomplishes task after task while making it all look so easy. It is great pleasure to work with him.

Nazila Nik


Iran Country Coordinator, AICS (ES)

In Shayan’s words:

“I became involved with Amnesty in 2010. In March of that year I attended a celebration for the Iranian New Year (Nowruz) hosted by AITO and the Iran Action Circle. The event combined human rights actions with entertainment and cultural presentations. I was very impressed by it and when presented with the opportunity of joining the Iran Action Circle’s membership list, I immediately signed up and began to attend their monthly meetings. Soon after joining, an opening became available in the Iran Action Circle’s executive and I became the secretary of the group. Two years, and many group events and actions later, I became the chair.

However, my path to joining Amnesty began much earlier and stems from my childhood experiences. I emigrated from Iran with my family when I was three. Though I left that country at a young age, the thought of Iran was never far from the minds of my family and I. Our exile from Iran was not an easy decision for my parents and was the result of various social and political conditions that made that country inhospitable for us. We left Iran without any real desire of leaving; we departed with the ardent hope of returning. Therefore, talk of Iran and its politics, its upheavals, and its human rights abuses were quite common in our household. shayan2As a result of this, I began to realize what violations of human rights were at a young age. Yet more importantly, I began to understand their positive manifestation– the ideals of inalienable human rights.

But with my newfound understanding came another realization¬– that these atrocities are not confined to Iran. They are present in Canada and around the world. Because of this realization I began to learn more about global human rights abuses. Through this I became aware of organizations such as Amnesty International. I came to admire the work of Amnesty, its global presence, and the grassroots campaigning of its members. If we are to overcome global human rights abuses we need organizations that are international in scope and inclusive in membership. Amnesty International is built on these principles. It is because of this that I am active in Amnesty.

With all of this in mind, my impulsive decision to join Amnesty in 2010 makes logical sense. Fate brought me to this organization but the support of its activists compels me to be active. The volunteers and staff of Amnesty are supportive, attentive, and accommodating. The organization is run in such a democratic fashion that allows even the newest of volunteers to get involved and coordinate actions. Today I am very glad that I took the decision to join Amnesty International. By becoming involved not only have I taken part in great campaigns, but I have also met many dedicated and enthusiastic activists who I consider my friends.

Being chair of the Iran Action Circle hasn’t been easy. As a relative novice to Amnesty, there are many things that I have had to learn and do for the first time. Nevertheless, I never doubt my decision to take on this role, as the challenges it has brought have been rewarding and satisfying. I have gained valuable experience and most importantly, done great work. In July of this year I joined the AITO Board of Directors as a Director at large. I look forward to contributing to the organization and meeting more volunteers from throughout Toronto.”

Shayan is a passionate young man whom I came to know a few years ago. Since he joined our AI Toronto Iran Action Circle he proved to be a great asset for our group and a wonderful promoter of human rights in Iran.

His passion for human rights inspired him to also join the AI Toronto Indigenous Peoples Rights Team. He is an inspiring leader, hard working and an incredible human rights activist. It is a pleasure to know him and to work with him.

Mehri Malakouti


AI Toronto Iran Action Circle


Ellen Shifrin

Ellen Shifrin

A sense of social justice

Every volunteer organization needs to have cornerstones: key volunteers who are instrumental in shaping volunteerism within the organization, who work tirelessly to support the goals of the organization and who provide leadership in critical areas. Ellen Shifrin is one of our long-standing cornerstones for Amnesty International in the Greater Toronto Area. She is an active member of our Speaker’s Bureau, one of the leads of the Business and Human Rights Team and a passionate defender of human rights. She is also a dear friend and mentor. Well done and deserved Ellen!

Shanaaz Gokool


Former AITO Chair

In Ellen’s words:

“I grew up in a middle class Anglo neighbourhood in Montreal. The only remarkable thing about it was that my parents instilled in me a sense of social justice. Recently a cousin said that I was like my parents on steroids. They found a way to live their beliefs, have a family, contribute to “culture” (classical music, theatre, dance, art), and do some travelling. I haven’t yet found that balance, as now everything seems to clash; travel = not good for the environment, classical anything seems colonial, and beliefs are urgent top priorities.

Amnesty International rose into view for me soon after I left a so-called spiritual community. As an Indiaphile, I had always wanted to find out what had happened with the Bhopal disaster, and contribute to that. I had travelled in India on meditation retreats; now I turned my attention to the work that really needs to be done. 2004 was the 20th anniversary of that disaster, and AI came out with a report that remains one of the important writings on Bhopal, almost 10 years later.

After exploring other issues and learning more about AI, I realized that Bhopal falls under the “Business & Human Rights” category, and so joined the BHR group. However, I found that unlike other issues, there was, it seemed, only I who wanted to work on Bhopal. To satisfy that inquiry, I joined the North American wing of International Coalition for Justice in Bhopal, and became part of the Advisory Committee. For the AI December 10th 2006 event, I helped organize the making of a solidarity banner for Bhopal. Three months later I presented it in Bhopal to a group of survivors and activists. There I met some of the amazing people who work on this issue, and resolved to return.

I finally got that opportunity in the winter of 2010. After a month in Andhra Pradesh on a team writing for an ESL curriculum, I headed up to Bhopal for the annual meeting of all the organizations working in various ways on the effects of the disaster. I was to spend the next 6 weeks there as a volunteer.

Enter the twist: on the evening of the second day I was walking back to the Sambhavna Clinic, an internationally funded clinic and research centre that provides health care free to all gas and water-affected people. In spite of the fact that I had been in India for almost 3 years off and on, and that I’m good at crossing streets there (it’s almost fun), I looked the wrong way and got hit by a motorcycle. Poor chap, he really didn’t have an opportunity to stop – I just walked out right in front of him. I heard a shout, and the next thing I knew I was down on the ground with a horrible pain in my left foot. A crowd of young men gathered around me, looking. Eventually a couple of the fellows got me up, asked me where I was staying, and helped me to an autorickshaw. They rode with me to Sambhavna, ensured that people were there, and left. They wouldn’t even let me give them some rupees for the auto. Satyu, one of the leaders of the clinic and Bhopal movement, smilingly said that I had insulted his countrymen by offering money.

Since then my other human rights work – teaching children with dyslexia – has taken priority. This means that my eco-destroying trips to India haven’t resumed, although my heart is often there, and I enjoy listening to others’ experiences. I’m more involved with the current work of the AI BHR group, Corporate Accountability for Canadian mining abroad. My lens remains Human Rights, and each day I work to provide others with the means by which they can make informed decisions to participate in our eroding “democracy”. I am always grateful to AI for its vision, leadership, and opportunities to make a difference.”

There are many stories to tell since I met Ellen during my first B&HR group in Toronto. However, more than a story about Ellen, I would like to highlight her commitment to solve human unkindness. She always keeps our perspective clear: we do what we do in order to alleviate and prevent harm done when we loose perspective of the impact our actions have on other humans. Her kindness extends beyond the work we do to make for a compassionate, strong, humble and wonderful human being.

If it’s someone profiting from cutting costs on maintenance from the Bhopal disaster, or a company that don’t want to clean oil spills in Nigeria or companies disregarding impact of mining in Latin America, Ellen is there to remind us all the very human suffering that we are causing each other in order to maintain a particular way of life.

Freddy Osorio-Ramirez


member AI B&HRs Team

One of the marks of a caring and compassionate organization is in how it treats those with special needs. A task that Ellen cheerfully and ably took on as Toronto hosted the 2008 and 2010 AI Annual General Meetings was to serve as our special needs coordinator. This behind the scenes work at the Toronto AGMs was in addition to the many things Ellen was also doing out front in campaigning for human rights – but working towards a fairer world also requires quiet behind the scenes efforts too.

Andy Buxton


member AI Group 1, Hamilton


Duncan Garrow

Duncan Garrow

Thoughtful reflections and hands-on support

I don’t remember when I first met Duncan. I have a vague memory of him hanging out during coffee time at Church of the Redeemer in downtown Toronto. I know for sure that when Amnesty International member Susanna Jacobs suggested we start an Amnesty Action Circle at Redeemer, Duncan was there from the beginning. He has been a faithful presence in the group; always asking probing questions, wanting to know more, about Indigenous people, refugees, Iran, corporate responsibility and other human rights issues. Susanna suggested Redeemer send a representative from our group to the AI Toronto monthly meetings and Duncan was quick to volunteer. The summer he began attending the AI TO meetings was the same summer that he had a landscaping job in Mississauga. He would be up at 4:30 in the morning to catch buses to get to the Mississauga job, and once a month somehow managed to also get to AI Toronto meetings… most of the time. I remember his disappointment one evening after rushing through the two cities and catching multiple buses and subways, the door to the AI Toronto office was locked. What impressed me most was that he was so disappointed at missing the AI meeting. I know that if I had been up at 4:30 am, I would have been heading to my bed, not a meeting.

And Duncan continues to impress me. In the two or more years the Redeemer group has been meeting, I don’t think Duncan has missed a single meeting. I know I can count on him. His commitment extends to AITO. In the past two years he has leaped from attending a monthly meeting to being an active member of the executive, a willing, keen, and talented member of the speakers’ bureau, with a willingness to attend any meeting and help in any way that he can. It is rare for me to attend an Amnesty event in Toronto when Duncan is not present. But it is more than simply being reliable and present. Duncan is a gracious, gentle and inquiring person. Amnesty International is privileged to have Duncan as a part of our team.

Gloria Nafziger


Former AI Canada Refugee Coordinator

In Duncan’s words:

“Little squeeks. My association with Amnesty started in a church basement two and a half years ago, first by signing petitions and writing letters. I’d always considered myself somewhat well informed and certainly well intentioned when it came to world events. But it took the formation of an action circle at my church to inspire me to take the plunge and get involved. Or should I say to dip my toe in. It was small and hesitant at first, just an hour a month. Looking back, I often wonder what took me so long. How did I spend this much of my life, thinking, caring, and talking about human rights but never taking action. In the end, I think it might have had to do with little squeeks.

At various times, many of us are defeated by a feeling that our lonely, solitary voices when raised will simply be lost in the wind. But there is a trap in that way of thinking. A big trap. A trap more powerful than any dictator and more destructive than chronic indifference or ignorance. It is the crushing belief that we’ll never be heard amidst the din and cacophony of oppression, hate, and intolerance.

Amnesty has been an amazing organization for me. It has encouraged me to develop strengths that I never knew I had, to find my own special niche, and with gentle, steady encouragement and mentoring, to gradually take on more responsibility. For me, that began to take shape by expanding on my hour a month letter writing in the church basement to becoming the bad penny that just kept showing up at the AITO monthly meetings. From there it evolved to being present at as many Amnesty events as possible, learning the issues, and eventually to taking on more of a leadership role.

In 2013 I joined the AITO Executive as a Director-At-Large and became a member of the Speaker’s Bureau. Both roles have come with a learning curve that has been both humbling and exhilarating. As part of the Executive, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with many of our volunteers in groups and action circles throughout the city. I am forever inspired by their commitment and dedication to people from around the world and around the block.

With the Speaker’s Bureau, I’ve been invited to speak in schools. A lot of schools. I’ve spoken to large and small classes, to students that are engaged and to some who are secretly trying to tweet the time away. But what inspires me most is that in virtually every class I go to, there is at least one student sitting quietly, not speaking or raising their hand. Some will muster the courage to respond as the session gets going, but many will come to me only after it is over to ask how they can get involved, while many will wait to ask their teacher long after I’ve left.

Perhaps I relate to them most because these small, gentle, and nervous voices are very much like my own not so long ago. They may be little squeeks, but together they, and we, can change the world.”

“It is with great pleasure over the past few years that I have observed Duncan Garrow growing into an AI leader in Toronto. He first began participating in AITO in 2010. He consistently attended AITO meetings and AI events in the GTA- enthusiastic, eager to learn, and always helpful. I often think he has the template down for how to become an active volunteer for Amnesty International: as with many things in life, intentions will only get you so far – you have to show up. Duncan shows up, and when he does he always has a warm smile and some quick wit at the ready!

In a very short period of time Duncan has become one of the most reliable AI volunteers in the GTA, actively taking on leadership roles and becoming an invaluable member of our Speaker’s Bureau and the AITO Board of Directors. He continues to find his own voice as a human rights activist and in doing so, he promotes human rights for those who are voiceless.

I can’t say exactly when it happened, but it feels like Duncan has always been a part of the AITO family and now I cannot imagine AITO without his thoughtful reflections and hands-on-support.

Congratulations Duncan, I expect to continue to see more great things from you in the future!

Shanaaz Gokool


Former AITO Chair


Todd Barsanti

Todd Barsanti

Genuine intent + great talent = well-applied creativity
I met Todd a decade – and several posters, flyers, ads, postcards, displays – ago! A few mocha’s had, some seriously good creative collaboration, juggling tight timelines – all of it enjoyable when you’re working with a genuinely nice guy. A common interest to help, made most of the projects feel much less – and much more – than work. As part of AITO’s graphic support team – often leading it – he’s produced countless pieces of great design over the years. Genuine intent + great talent = well-applied creativity. Take a look at Todd’s work for Amnesty – you’ll see his heart is in the right place – it’s excellent – ALL of it! AITO is lucky to have him!

Susanne Brunetzky


graphic designer at speakdesign inc and member of AITO Art in Action Team

In Todd’s words:

I never really considered myself an activist in the traditional sense, but I have always felt that Amnesty International’s work to help prevent and end human rights violations around the world is important. I first approached the Toronto Organization (AITO) in 2001 and offered my graphic design services as a way in which I might be comfortable giving of my time. Twelve years on, I contribute where I can and I am honoured that the folks at AITO keep coming back for more.

In 2001, I began doing flyers for an ongoing event we called Amnesty Café.  In 2003, we started an annual silent auction of photography and art, called View.

In 2005, I created a t-shirt design for Stop Violence Against Women.

And over the years, there have been plenty of poster designs commemorating and promoting events.

But perhaps the work I am most proud of, are the posters and collateral materials I have worked to develop Amnesty International Reel Awareness Human Rights Film Festival which has grown in popularity every year, and is now about to happen for the eighth consecutive year.

Thank you to Elena Dumitru at the Amnesty International Toronto Organization for all of your support over the years and for not being shy to ask for help when you need it. I consider you to be a good friend and a kind soul and you’ve made my interactions with Amnesty International such a positive experience over the years.”

Todd is a behind-the-scenes volunteer who has become an essential partner of the Reel Awareness team. Since the festival’s inception in 2006, Todd has created beautiful, eye-catching and frame-worthy posters. In earlier years, he graciously incorporated our suggestions, even though we had little expertise in understanding graphic design. With each year, our appreciation of the art form, and of his creativity and talent has grown.

Thank you Todd, for all that you have contributed.

Renee Saviour


AI Canada (ES) Board