2 min

Egale head resigns

Lobby group begins soul-searching

Credit: Shawn Scallen

After eight years at the helm of Canada’s national queer lobby group, John Fisher is turning over the wheel.

Fisher is stepping down as executive director of Egale Canada in June 2003, right after the organization holds a major soul-searching conference about its future in May.

“When people think of Egale, they think of John,” says the group’s president, Kim Vance. “He has been the solid force behind the tremendous growth and development of our organization…. He’s been the anchor, the strong and consistent person to carry Egale through change.”

Despite its national profile, Egale is a modest organization, with Fisher as the only full-time employee, three part-time employees and an annual budget of about $250,000.

One of Fisher’s more notable achievements is Egale’s lobby effort to have sexual orientation added to the Canadian Human Rights Act. In 1994, then justice minister Allan Rock promised Egale that the change would happen by the end of the year. When the end of 1994 had come and gone with still no change, Fisher realized what was needed was a national response.

“In spring of 1995, I flew to Vancouver and took the train back to Ottawa, jumping off at all the stops, meeting with the different GLBT [gay, lesbian, bi and trans] groups along the way,” says Fisher. “I slept in people’s homes and met with representatives of different organizations across the country, building part of a national structure, with each community.”

The result was the ability to mobilize nationally, which helped prompt the government to add sexual orientation in June 1996.

“He’s been there for a lot of our victories, and a contributing force on all of them. I don’t think we’d be celebrating some of those victories if we didn’t have the strong backbone of John,” says Vance.

Egale has been front-and-centre, helping the couples who are challenging the ban on same-sex marriage, but has also advocated other issues, like adding sexual orientation to hate crime legislation.

Fisher came to Canada from New Zealand 11 years ago to get his masters in law from Queen’s University. He had no intention of staying. He got a job as a research assistant for a lawyer in Ottawa and there began volunteering for Egale. Eventually he started working part-time, mostly on fundraising.

So why leave now?

“I have been feeling a need in recent years to reconnect with family and friends, and I am also interested in focussing my energy on international issues facing GLBT people.”

Egale is seizing his departure as an opportunity to grow. The board has decided to restructure and hire three new employees – a new executive director to cover the fund raising and administrative side of things, a director of advocacy to cover the legal and political work and a director of public education and research.

“We weren’t even going to attempt to embark on a journey to find another John,” says Vance.