2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 18th celebration of the ‘International Day of Older Persons’.

In Canada there are more than 4.8 million persons over age 60 (including more than 6,500 people over the age of 100!). Worldwide, there are almost 700 million people over the age of 60, and the United Nations projects that by 2050, there will be 2 billion people, over 20 percent of the world’s population, over age 60 (present company included).

Many of the people who created and championed human rights work in the mid-20th Century are now championing the human rights of older adults, and fittingly the theme of the 2018 UNIDOP is the celebration of the Declaration of Human Rights, reaffirming the commitment to the promotion of the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by older persons.

The 2018 theme of UNIDOP is “Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions.” Many of the most notable human rights activists today were born around the time of the adoption of the UDHR in 1948. They are as diverse as the society in which they live: from older people advocating for human rights at the grass root and community level to high profile figures on the international stage. Each one demands respect and acknowledgement for their dedication and commitment to contributing to a world free from fear and free from want.

As invited by the UN, I want to celebrate today by celebrating a few Canadians who have dedicated their lives to championing human rights.

  1. Marilou McPhedran, lawyer, human rights advocate, independent Senator, co-founder of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (“LEAF”), the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence against Women and Children (“METRAC”), the Gerstein Crisis Centre for homeless discharged psychiatric patients in Toronto; and the International Women’s Rights Project, to name a few accomplishments.
  2. Steven Lewis, chair, Stephen Lewis Foundation, Professor of Distinction at Ryerson University, co-founder of the international advocacy organization “AIDS-Free World”, former commissioner on Public Heath and International Drug Policy, UN, Secretary General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa 2001-2006, Companion of the Order of Canada.
  3. Elijah Harper (Ojibway-Cree, deceased), Harper would be 69 this year but for his death in 2013Politician, past Chief of Red Sucker Lake community, first treaty member of a first nation to be elected as a provincial politician, Minister of Native Affairs, Minister of Northern Affairs, Minister in Charge of the Communities Economic Fund Act. In 1990, with an eagle feather raised, Harper voiced his opposition to the Meech Lake Accord — a constitutional amendment to gain Quebec’s acceptance of the Constitution Act. The accord had been negotiated without the consultation of First Nations and Harper’s historic stance brought the accord to a standstill.

Who will you celebrate today? How will you accept the challenge of the U.N to:

  • Promotethe rights enshrined in the Declaration and what it means in the daily lives of older persons;
  • Raise the visibilityof older people as participating members of society committed to improving the enjoyment of human rights in many areas of life and not just those that affect them immediately;
  • Reflecton progress and challenges in ensuring full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by older persons; and
  • Engage broad audiences across the world and mobilize people for human rights at all stages of life.