Svend Robinson was elected to the House of Commons in Canada for seven consecutive elections, from 1979 to 2004. He represented the British Columbia communities of Burnaby and Vancouver as a member of the federal New Democrat caucus in Ottawa. When he chose not to run again in the June, 2004 election, Svend was one of the longest-serving members in the House of Commons.
Svend grew up and attended school in Burnaby. In 1970, Svend worked as a labourer-teacher with Frontier College, working with miners, aboriginal people and community members while gold mining in northern Ontario. He went on to study science and law at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and did post-graduate studies in England at the London School of Economics. Svend was the first student elected to the UBC Board of Governors, and was a member of the UBC Senate and Alma Mater Society. He received many awards for academic excellence while at UBC, including the Chris Spencer Entrance Scholarship, and in 1972 was the recipient of UBC's highest academic honour, the Sherwood Lett Memorial Scholarship. Svend was called to the BC Bar in September 1978, and worked as a barrister and solicitor until his election to the House of Commons and for some time afterwards.
Robinson was an active MP, in his riding, across the country and internationally. A strong advocate of human rights, he served on many Parliamentary Committees including the historic Special Joint Committee on the Constitution in 1980-81, the 1985 Special Committee on Equality Rights, the Justice Committee, the Human Rights Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Health Committee. Svend was a founding member of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on International Human Rights and Democratic Development. He was the first openly gay MP, having come out publicly in the spring of 1988, and has received many honours nationally and internationally for his work for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.
Svend was a member of the Canadian Committee for the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations in 1995, and was a member of the Canadian delegation to many sessions of the UN General Assembly as well as the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. He was named an honourary director of both the BC and Ottawa Civil Liberties Associations, and of Lawyers Against Apartheid. He was also one of the founding members of the Canadian branch of Parliamentarians for East Timor. Svend has also been very active in support of indigenous peoples and environmental issues. He was adopted into the Haida Nation in 1985. He was a candidate for the national leadership of the New Democratic Party in 1995, finishing second to Alexa McDonough. In 2003, he was elected by his colleagues as Deputy House Leader.
In 2001 he was elected as Rapporteur of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Human Rights and Democracy, and in 2002, was elected Vice-Chair. In 2004 he was Acting Chair of that body, chairing the Annual session in Edinburgh, Scotland. Svend was also an active member of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Svend has participated in election monitoring teams in many places around the world, including South Africa, Romania, Taiwan and East Timor. In July 2009 Svend
co-chaired the very successful Copenhagen OUTGames International LGBT Human Rights Conference, attended by over 800 people from around the world."
In 1990 he received l'Ordre de la Pléiade, Grade de Chevalier in recognition of his support for francophone rights. In addition, he received The Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Confederation in 1992 andThe Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.
Among the many awards and honours received by Svend over his years in Parliament are the following:
Award for Human Rights, May 1993 Lambda Foundation
The Edith Adamson Award for Leadership in Issues of Conscience in 1995.
Elena Gil Iberoamerican Award on Ethics, June 1995 Felix Varela Centre
Tom Stoddard National Role Model Award, May 1997 presented by PrideFest America.
Hero Award, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in August 1999 by The Canadian Bar Association.
Presidents Award, 2003 Canadian Arab Federation
Kurdish Human Rights Prize, Adar 2614
Grand Prix d'Honneur, 2009 of the Gay and Lesbian Quebec Council, last year's recipient was Honourable Louise Arbour.
Robinson is fluent in English and French, and speaks some Danish and Spanish as well.