Canadians lost a social justice leader with the death of Gerald Vandezande on Saturday, July 16, at the age of 77.
Vandezande, a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Scarborough, Ontario, will be remembered as a man who loved his family deeply and embraced wholeheartedly social justice for all.
Growing up in Nazi-occupied Holland, Vandezande was influenced deeply by the risks taken by ordinary citizens and by the power of the gospel message. Gerry, as he liked to be called, spent his career as a public policy analyst and social justice advocate.
In 2001, Vandezande received the Order of Canada, one of Canada’s highest civilian honors. His order citation described him as a “powerful and respected voice for social justice.” He also received an honorary doctorate from the Institute for Christian Studies and the Arthur Kroeger College Award in Ethics in Public Affairs.
His accomplishments, listed in detail on the Citizens for Public Justice website, note that he was the executive secretary (and first employee) of the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in 1961.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board had continually refused to recognize CLAC as a bona fide union. Vandezande took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court of Ontario and won.
In 1961, Gerry cofounded the Committee for Justice and Liberty (CJL), a faith-based public advocacy organization now known as Citizens for Public Justice.
Tributes on CPJ’s website were abundant.
Harry Kits, former CPJ executive director, wrote, “. . . Gerald’s vision for justice for the marginalized, his belief that one’s faith mattered and always shaped political decision-making, and his commitment to engage even those with whom he strongly disagreed, were and remain an inspiration and an example for me.”
“Gerald's legacy is huge,” wrote John Olthuis, CPJ’s research director in the 1970’s. “It is his vision, commitment, compassion, and unfailing dedication to social and political justice. My hope and prayer is that his life of service to God and community will continue to inspire new generations of young people to join his quest for fairness and equality for all.”