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.
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.
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.