Matas: David Kilgour’s Fierce Devotion to Principle and Profound Empathy for Rights Abuse Victims Will Endure

CommentaryI have known David Kilgour all my adult life. From the get-go, I could see that he had a friendly, outgoing, gregarious personality. David was an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in the early 1960s the same time as I. He was a bit ahead of me, but as active in student affairs as I was, and then some. We were both by coincidence in Ottawa and then Paris at the same time in the late ’60s, each pursuing our own work and studies. I attended his wedding in Edmonton in 1974 where he was then a prosecutor. Our casual contact changed dramatically in March 2006 when we began, on request from an NGO, a joint investigation into whether adherents of the spiritual-based practice Falun Gong were being killed in China for their organs to be sold to patients in need of transplants. From that time on, for the past 16 years, I had been in touch with David on an almost daily basis, often several times a day. (L-R) David Kilgour, David Matas, and Ethan Gutmann, authors of “Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update,” in London, England, on Nov. 25, 2014. (Simon Gross/The Epoch Times) The first version of our report, released in June 2006, concluded that the abuse in China of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience that we were asked to investigate was indeed happening. We realized that we could not just release the report and walk away from the issue to engage in our other activities, of which we had many. To keep the issue alive, we had to keep at it. And keep at it we did, with updates to our report, with the co-founding along with journalist Ethan Gutmann of an NGO on the issue (the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China), and with a steady stream of trips to conferences, rallies, and hearings, and of statements, speeches, submissions, articles, internet postings, and email listserv messages. We became partners not just on this issue but on a variety of other human rights issues where we shared common cause—the tyranny in Iran, the atrocities against the Uyghurs, the threats to Taiwan, the repression in Hong Kong, antisemitism driven by distorted attacks on Israel, and so on. By sharing the same concerns on so many issues in such depth for so long, I came to know David quite well. What I could see was that he was dedicated to principle without reservation. The principles he held were fiercely, intensely held personal beliefs. When he retired from Parliament after 27 years, he was then its longest-serving member. During that career, he was evicted from the Progressive Conservative Party for non-conformity, joined the Liberal Party, and then resigned in disagreement over their policies. Given his character, that was a fate foretold. His openness to others, as well as his independence of mind and commitment to principle, made him highly electable. That same independence made his climbing what British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli called the greasy pole impossible. The ability to go along to get along was not in his repertoire. (L–R) International human rights lawyer David Matas, former justice minister Irwin Cotler, and former secretary of state for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour at the parliamentary international human rights subcommittee hearing in Ottawa on Nov. 3, 2016, where Matas and Kilgour provided a briefing on organ transplantation abuses in China. (The Epoch Times) David’s finest hours were those spent on human rights after he left Parliament. The issues surrounding human rights in general and China in particular brought out the best in him because they brought out the worst in others. Others might be prepared to trade off or water down principles for money or power, position or access. Others might be willing to accept promises for reality, telling instead of showing. Others might succumb to delusions of grandeur because perpetrators mouthed the words their interlocutors wanted to hear. But not David Kilgour. He distinguished himself by his bottomless well of support for victims, his inexhaustible rejection of hypocrisy, his interminable anguish at impunity. David died April 5. May he rest in peace, but I do not think he will. His spirit will always suffer from the atrocities of this planet. In spirit, his anger will continue to flare at, and his patience will again and again be tried by, the perpetual onslaught of perpetrators; his sympathy will persistently embrace the unending parade of victims, and his concerns for them will forever mount. All who have known David will miss him. Yet he will not be gone. His example will endure to remind us of the difference between indifference and empathy, between bafflegab and honesty, between giving way and standing firm, between doing well and doing good. He has not disappeared because he has become part of us. Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Human Rights Lawyer Follow David Matas, an award-winning C

Matas: David Kilgour’s Fierce Devotion to Principle and Profound Empathy for Rights Abuse Victims Will Endure

Commentary

I have known David Kilgour all my adult life. From the get-go, I could see that he had a friendly, outgoing, gregarious personality.

David was an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in the early 1960s the same time as I. He was a bit ahead of me, but as active in student affairs as I was, and then some. We were both by coincidence in Ottawa and then Paris at the same time in the late ’60s, each pursuing our own work and studies. I attended his wedding in Edmonton in 1974 where he was then a prosecutor.

Our casual contact changed dramatically in March 2006 when we began, on request from an NGO, a joint investigation into whether adherents of the spiritual-based practice Falun Gong were being killed in China for their organs to be sold to patients in need of transplants. From that time on, for the past 16 years, I had been in touch with David on an almost daily basis, often several times a day.

Epoch Times Photo
(L-R) David Kilgour, David Matas, and Ethan Gutmann, authors of “Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update,” in London, England, on Nov. 25, 2014. (Simon Gross/The Epoch Times)

The first version of our report, released in June 2006, concluded that the abuse in China of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience that we were asked to investigate was indeed happening. We realized that we could not just release the report and walk away from the issue to engage in our other activities, of which we had many. To keep the issue alive, we had to keep at it. And keep at it we did, with updates to our report, with the co-founding along with journalist Ethan Gutmann of an NGO on the issue (the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China), and with a steady stream of trips to conferences, rallies, and hearings, and of statements, speeches, submissions, articles, internet postings, and email listserv messages.

We became partners not just on this issue but on a variety of other human rights issues where we shared common cause—the tyranny in Iran, the atrocities against the Uyghurs, the threats to Taiwan, the repression in Hong Kong, antisemitism driven by distorted attacks on Israel, and so on. By sharing the same concerns on so many issues in such depth for so long, I came to know David quite well. What I could see was that he was dedicated to principle without reservation. The principles he held were fiercely, intensely held personal beliefs.

When he retired from Parliament after 27 years, he was then its longest-serving member. During that career, he was evicted from the Progressive Conservative Party for non-conformity, joined the Liberal Party, and then resigned in disagreement over their policies. Given his character, that was a fate foretold. His openness to others, as well as his independence of mind and commitment to principle, made him highly electable. That same independence made his climbing what British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli called the greasy pole impossible. The ability to go along to get along was not in his repertoire.

(L–R) International human rights lawyer David Matas, former justice minister Irwin Cotler, and former secretary of state for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour at the parliamentary international human rights subcommittee hearing in Ottawa on Nov. 3, 2016, where Matas and Kilgour provided a briefing on organ transplantation abuses in China. (Epoch Times)
(L–R) International human rights lawyer David Matas, former justice minister Irwin Cotler, and former secretary of state for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour at the parliamentary international human rights subcommittee hearing in Ottawa on Nov. 3, 2016, where Matas and Kilgour provided a briefing on organ transplantation abuses in China. (The Epoch Times)

David’s finest hours were those spent on human rights after he left Parliament. The issues surrounding human rights in general and China in particular brought out the best in him because they brought out the worst in others. Others might be prepared to trade off or water down principles for money or power, position or access. Others might be willing to accept promises for reality, telling instead of showing. Others might succumb to delusions of grandeur because perpetrators mouthed the words their interlocutors wanted to hear. But not David Kilgour. He distinguished himself by his bottomless well of support for victims, his inexhaustible rejection of hypocrisy, his interminable anguish at impunity.

David died April 5. May he rest in peace, but I do not think he will. His spirit will always suffer from the atrocities of this planet. In spirit, his anger will continue to flare at, and his patience will again and again be tried by, the perpetual onslaught of perpetrators; his sympathy will persistently embrace the unending parade of victims, and his concerns for them will forever mount.

All who have known David will miss him. Yet he will not be gone. His example will endure to remind us of the difference between indifference and empathy, between bafflegab and honesty, between giving way and standing firm, between doing well and doing good. He has not disappeared because he has become part of us.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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David Matas, an award-winning Canadian human rights lawyer and a member of the Order of Canada, serves on the board of directors of the Toronto-based International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. In 2010 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work related to the investigation of forced organ harvesting crimes against Falun Gong practitioners in China. Matas co-authored "Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for their Organs" and co-edited "State Organs: Transplant Abuse in China."