Social justice champion Shirzad Ahmed to receive honorary degree from UFV

Effectively fighting for the rights of refugees and immigrants from 144 countries takes 17-hours a day, seven days a week

Social justice champion Shirzad Ahmed to receive honorary degree from UFV.

Social justice champion Shirzad Ahmed to receive honorary degree from UFV.

Effectively fighting for the rights of refugees and immigrants from 144 countries takes 17-hours a day, seven days a week. And Shirzad Ahmed wouldn’t have it any other way.

For his dedication to human rights, Shirzad will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of the Fraser Valley at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 11 during the morning Convocation ceremony at the Abbotsford Centre. The public is welcome to attend.

Shirzad survived Saddam Hussein’s brutal oppression, absorbing all the knowledge and education he could while he and his fellow Kurds were shelled, beaten, and bombarded with chemical weapons. His father scraped together $400 and launched Shirzad on an epic overland trek to find freedom and opportunity. He knocked on the doors of 13 countries before gaining temporary refuge in Italy and then a permanent home in Canada.

And instead of asking for help when he arrived on a cold Saskatoon day more than 30 years ago, Shirzad immediately began helping others.

“It’s not about you; it’s about the next generation. You want to leave something behind that’s better,” he explains.

“I saw oppression and I saw killing and the one thing I learned in life was don’t forget your roots and don’t shy away from speaking up against injustice. We hear about weapons of mass destruction, but we never talk about weapons of mass instruction. That’s what we need. Education for everyone.”

He worked as a translator and language tutor while dedicating himself to his two favourites: Amnesty International, and the love of his life, Yvette, who was introduced though a mutual friend. Together the young couple made their way west and Shirzad started studying at what was then the University College of the Fraser Valley in 1992.

He made life-long friends almost immediately.

He completed his BA at Simon Fraser University and went on to the University of Calgary for his law degree, but Shirzad’s heart stayed in the Fraser Valley. He quickly rattles off a dozen names when asked which instructor or student had the greatest impact.

“It’s the people that make the University of the Fraser Valley so accomplished,” he says, noting his pride in having served on UCFV’s Board of Governors.

Possibly the greatest mentor Shirzad befriended was then-instructor and current UFV Provost and VP Academic, Eric Davis.

“Shirzad set and broke the mold for student leadership,” Davis notes. “He was a tireless supporter of student success and rights, in general, and of disadvantaged individual students, in particular…. I don’t use the word ‘tireless’ lightly. The man never slept…. And he was inspirational. His strength, determination, passion, intelligence, selflessness, energy, hard work, infectious enthusiasm, and sense of humour transformed the life of many a student who, because of his example, discovered within themselves the motivation and capacity for leadership and commitment to a community and world beyond their particular story,” Davis says.

Former Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Herh met Shirzad as a young law student almost 20 years ago.

“I have been proud to call Mr. Ahmed not only a fellow classmate, legal practitioner, and human rights advocate, but a true friend,” he says.

“He prefers to fight the good fight on behalf of people in difficult and compromising situations. He is truly an individual to be admired.”

Patricia Blocksom is a prominent Calgary lawyer continuously inspired by her early and ongoing experiences with Shirzad.

“He is unbelievably compassionate, generous, and understanding to all those he encounters. He is tolerant to differences and is by nature a fair-minded and kind individual,” she says.

“He has not used the privilege of his education to improve his position in life, rather he has used it to advance the rights of those who may be marginalized by their racial, political, or economic backgrounds.”

Shirzad’s door is open to countless refugees fleeing persecution from every corner of the globe. He often assists them for free and even pays their court costs out of his own pocket.

He received the 2008 Distinguished Service award in Pro Bono Legal Service from the Law Society of Alberta and the Canadian Bar Association. In 2009, he was inducted as a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence— to which only 110 Albertans have been named, including just 11 lawyers.

As an extremely highly regarded lawyer, Shirzad could certainly adopt an extravagant lifestyle. Fortunately for the legions needing his help, kicking back and relaxing simply isn’t in Shirzad’s DNA. His idea of a vacation was recently flying to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and high-level ministers to discuss effective measures to combat ISIS.

“Just because I’m comfortable doesn’t mean I should forget about the rest. Whether born here or somewhere else we have a moral obligation to human beings, and it’s not about me coming from another county and forgetting my roots— it’s seeing something that’s happening and speaking up.”

His message to UFV’s class of 2015 is simple: Fight for what’s right for all.

“Convocation is the first step to get to the world. It doesn’t mean you’ve reached the end of your efforts. Be thankful to family and friends who have been there, and the university faculty and staff,” he says.

“Grads have basically been given tools to work with to help others. They should think about the community at large, not just what’s in their own backyard.”

Though he has given so much to so many, Shirzad insists he’s the thankful one now.

“I’m speechless and grateful and feel honoured to receive an honorary degree from UFV,” he says.

“It speaks more to the character of the character of the university than about me. For me it’s not about awards. For me this is an achievement of the refugees fleeing persecution. This is for the people who have been there for me: professors, friends, and family. This achievement is actually their achievement, not mine.”

Shirzad was also named one of UFV’s Top 40 Alumni in 2014 and was the Distinguished Alumni award winner in 2011.

Just Posted

Harrison Hot Springs country singer Todd Richard poses for a photo with Mission firefighters. (Photo/Sarah Plawutski)
VIDEO: Harrison country artist Todd Richard plans for a busy, rockin’ summer

Richard and his band look to live shows as restrictions start to lift

Special weather statement issued for Fraser Valley as first summer heat arrives June 20, 2021, and set to persist all week. (Photo by James Day on Unsplash)
Second day of hot temperatures rippling across Fraser Valley

Communities from Abbotsford to Hope will see daytime high maximum temps of 32 degrees

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

The theme for this year’s Fraser Valley Regional Library Summer Reading Club is “Crack the Case” and Katie Burns, community librarian at the Chilliwack Library, is encouraging people of all ages to sign up. She is seen here at the Chilliwack Library on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crack the case, read, win prizes with FVRL Summer Reading Club

‘Immerse yourself in other worlds and have a bit of fun while you do it,’ says Chilliwack librarian

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read