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Human rights champion dead at 65

One of St. Albert's most renowned human rights champions has died. St. Albert resident and constitutional law scholar Gerald Gall died March 18 from heart failure following surgery after a long bout with lung disease. He was 65.

One of St. Albert's most renowned human rights champions has died.

St. Albert resident and constitutional law scholar Gerald Gall died March 18 from heart failure following surgery after a long bout with lung disease. He was 65.

Gall, founder of Edmonton's John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, was a renowned constitutional rights lawyer who has received numerous awards for his work on promoting human rights, including the Order of Canada.

Gall was a true champion of human rights, says Andy Knight, chair of political science at the University of Alberta and one of his friends, and made it his life's mission to teach people about the importance of rights.

"As Gerry always used to say, without understanding what your rights are, you don't know what you're protecting," Knight said.

Sentimental dad

Born in 1946, Gall graduated third in his class from the University of Windsor and was a law professor at the University of Alberta for about 38 years.

His wife Karen recalls meeting him while she was at the University of Toronto.

"He was my non-computer date," she says.

The university had held a computer dating service as a fundraiser, she explains, and she and her roommate signed up for it. She then got a call from a "Michael" who initially claimed to be her computer date, but soon confessed that he was actually Michael's friend, Gerry Gall. Michael had somehow figured out that Karen and her friend were roommates, and decided to switch identities with Gall as a gag. To turn the tables, Karen and her friend pretended to be each other to fool Michael.

"It all fell apart at the restaurant," she says, smiling. She and Gall hit it off and married in 1973.

Gall had a knack for making complex constitutional law understandable to regular people, Knight says.

"He was one of those professors of law that felt that if law was not relevant to everyday life, then it was not worthwhile teaching."

Gall took an almost fatherly approach to his students, often telling his first year students to think of him as "your home-room teacher," says his daughter Wendy.

Many lawyers have told the family that they owe their careers to his support.

He had a playful side as well, Wendy continues.

"We teased him incessantly," she says, and she would always try and trip him up with pop quizzes on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (She never did, since he knew it by heart.)

He also took part in her knitting podcast despite knowing absolutely nothing about knitting. (His answers were usually ridiculous.)

Gall took tremendous pride in his kids, Karen says, and always tried to involve them in his work. The kids would travel the world with him, volunteering at conferences and hob-knobbing with people like former MP Anne McLellan.

He was also a bit sentimental. Gall would always get her three cards on their wedding anniversary, Karen says, "because one just didn't put it just the way he wanted it."

Monday, the day of his funeral, would have been their 39th wedding anniversary.

Crusader

Gall helped organize the U of A's annual human rights lecture series, Knight says, and helped bring Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the university for the first talk. That talk led him to co-found the John Humphrey Centre, which now promotes human rights across the province. He served as the group's president for seven years.

Knight, Wendy and Karen attribute Gall's commitment to rights to his Jewish background. "What he would say is, 'If it's a human rights issue, it's a Jewish issue,'" Wendy recalls. "Just because it was not happening to you, doesn't mean it's something you should ignore."

Gall not only taught human rights but also acted to defend them, Knight says. He stood up for Muslim rights in Edmonton after 9/11, for example, and drew attention to the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent decades under house arrest as the elected leader of Myanmar.

More recently, he served on a committee addressing the discrimination against Baha'i students in Iran. Gall also led a campaign in 2004 to make Edmonton the first human rights city in North America.

Gall's efforts earned him many accolades, including an Alberta Human Rights Award, the Queen's Golden Jubilee and Alberta Centennial medals, and the Order of Canada.

Wendy says she will remember seeing her father reading the paper at the breakfast table in the morning with messed-up hair, and how during her U of A graduation he hugged her right after then-chancellor Lois Hole.

Karen says she has too many memories to choose from.

"We didn't need presents to express our love. We just needed presence," she says, sadly. "That's what was missing on Monday."

Gall is survived by his wife, three children and two sisters. His family has created a memorial fund in his name with The John Humphrey Centre.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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