Prominent Canadian human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Matas has been recognized with yet another award, this time in his own home town.
On June 8, the Winnipeg-based Mahatma Gandhi Centre of Canada presented its 2016 and 2017 Mahatma Gandhi Peace Awards, with the awards going to Matas and fellow Winnipeger and philanthropist Art DeFehr respectively.
The annual award was established in 2010 to recognize and honour “original thinkers and initiators of conflict resolution.”
Throughout his life, Matas has been involved in numerous human rights causes, including most recently the persecution of Falun Gong adherents in China and the state-sanctioned forced removal of organs for profit from the adherents and other prisoners of conscience. His work on this issue earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination along with fellow investigator David Kilgour, a former Canadian cabinet minister.
Local MP Doug Eyolfson, who spoke at the event, complimented Matas and DeFehr and cited a quote from Gandhi that he said was his own inspiration to enter public service: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
In his speech at the ceremony, Matas said it’s important for people in the free world to support those who are suppressed in their own countries.
“It is we, outside of China or Iran or Eritrea, who must promote the values of Mahatma Gandhi in those countries, because people in those countries run a great risk doing that themselves,” he said.
“That is one reason I’ve been active in combating the mass killing in China of prisoners of conscience for their organs for transplants, primarily Falun Gong, but also including Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, and house Christians.”
In an interview with The Epoch Times, Matas said in order to keep the values of Gandhi alive, they have to be updated to the conditions in today’s world.
Gandhi was able to protest Britain’s presence in India, “but of course China doesn’t allow protest,” he explained.
“It doesn’t allow Falun Gong, and it doesn’t allow protest by non-Falun Gong or support of the human rights of the Falun Gong, so it’s a totally different context.”
Matas said getting the award is an encouragement and re-affirmation of the human rights work he has been doing. The award is an important one, he said, as it honours the values of Gandhi and is also a local award.
“I am a product of the locality and a reflection of the locality, and so it’s always an honour to be honoured by your peers, because they are the ones that know you best.”
Past recipients of the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Awards include Izzeldin Aboulaish, popularly known as the “Gaza Doctor”; Avrum Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Knesset; Senator Romeo Dallaire; Senator Murray Sinclair; and Gail Asper and Moses Levy for their work on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
With reporting by Zheng Liu