Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Gill died following a long battle with cancer, which was not the case. Global News sincerely regrets the error.
Charan Gill, a pillar of B.C.’s South Asian community lauded for his work in the province’s human rights and labour movements, has died at the age of 84, his family announced Tuesday.
A post on Gill’s Facebook page said he passed away peacefully at Langley Memorial Hospital with his family by his side after a battle with cancer.
After earning a master’s degree in Punjabi and working at a bank in Hong Kong in his 20s, Gill immigrated from India to Canada in 1967 when he was 31 years old. His wife and children were finally allowed to join him two years later.
A brief stint at a sawmill in Williams Lake, B.C., was interrupted by a wrist injury, forcing Gill to pivot into social work for several northern communities in the province.
Upon moving to Surrey in 1973, while continuing his social work, Gill helped found the Farm Workers Organizing Committee and later the Canadian Farmworkers Union in 1980. The latter group helped improve wages and working conditions for farmers across British Columbia and the rest of Canada.
At the same time, Gill also co-founded the British Columbia Organization to Fight Racism, targeting the local Ku Klux Klan and other racist and neo-Nazi groups.
Gill’s family said he received threats against his life as he led the group throughout the 1980s and ’90s, while the organization’s offices were repeatedly vandalized by its opponents.
Following his retirement from social work in 1987, Gill continued to devote his energy to the South Asian community, helping to found the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society to help advance social justice causes. It has also developed several programs for visible minorities, including for at-risk youth and victims of domestic violence, while supporting immigrant women and combating elder abuse.
Gill has been awarded the Order of British Columbia and several other honours for his work in the community.
Speaker Raj Chouhan, a friend and the first politician of South Asian descent to hold the top role in the B.C. legislature, said Gill has left a “huge legacy” for the next generation of social justice advocates to build on.
“People will learn from the contributions he has made, and will be feeling very encouraged that they should also stand up for their community and our society,” he said.
“That’s what Charan Gill did, and I’m really sorry to see he is no longer with us.”
Premier John Horgan on social media called Gill’s contributions to B.C. “tremendous” and said the province was saddened by his passing.
Gill is survived by his by his three children and their spouses, along with five grandchildren, one great grandchild and extended family in B.C., the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and India.