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Outpouring of grief and gratitude for human rights activist Charan Gill

Gill, who died Tuesday, brought awareness to racism and poor working conditions for South Asian farmers from the 1970s onwards
Charan Gill in his late years

Prominent human rights activist and Order of B.C. recipient Charan Gill of Surrey died Tuesday at the age of 84.

Gill was the founder of the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS) and is widely recognized for his anti-racism and human rights initiatives, particularly in the South Asian community and the broader farming sector.

PICS announced Gill’s death Tuesday on Facebook.

“His tireless efforts made PICS develop into a major community organization in the Lower Mainland offering multiple programs and services to the community, including language and settlement services, employment programs, housing for seniors, second stage transition home for immigrant women, training, and programs for women and youth,” the announcement said.

“At a very young age, since the day he landed in Canada, Mr. Gill involved himself in community work and social activism. He was a founding member of the Canadian Farm Workers Union and also served as the President of the BC Organization to Fight Racism. Mr. Gill followed his heart and loved to work for seniors, immigrants, youth and the working poor.”

Gill’s death was commemorated by, among many provincial leaders, Premier John Horgan on Twitter. Horgan called Gill a “lifelong champion for social justice and working people.”

Meanwhile, the B.C. Federation of Labour issued a statement Wednesday.

“Co-founding the Canadian Farmworkers Union took extraordinary courage, vision and an unshakeable belief in the power of people working together for a greater good. He, Raj Chouhan and the farmworkers they organized stood their ground against bitter opposition from wealthy, powerful forces. They prevailed, dramatically improving the laws and working conditions governing farm work in our province,” stated the BCFL.

Chouhan is now the Speaker of the House at the B.C. Legislature for the BC NDP government.

Another MLA, Jagrup Brar, wrote on Twitter how Gill “fought for farmworkers, immigrants, seniors [and] all. He leaves a legacy to inspire others to carry on the struggle for a better society.”

Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal called Gill “a beacon of light for thousands of immigrants and newcomers to Canada over many decades.”

According to widely circulated biographies, Gill was born in Hong Kong to Punjabi parents but returned to Punjab with his family at a young age. He came to Canada at age 31, in 1967.

Gill’s death comes as many in the Lower Mainland’s South Asian community are raising awareness of new Indian government laws that Punjab farmers assert will destroy their livelihoods. Hose laws have sparked major protests in Punjab, India. Many small street protests have taken place in Surrey and Richmond to stand with the Punjab farmers.

On Monday, Horgan weighed in on the events via Twitter: “Many British Columbians come from farming families in India & it's been stressful for them to witness reaction to farmers' peaceful protests. I understand their anguish & hope everyone is safe. I strongly believe in the democratic process & hope a peaceful solution is found soon.”