Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic and the injured worker community is deeply saddened by the sudden passing of valued IWC Board member and friend, John Rae. A social justice, disability and human rights advocate, his expertise and boundless energy contributed substantively to IWC’s work and impact on workers’ compensation law and policy reform.
As a disability rights activist and a veteran of the labour movement, John saw those communities as natural allies of the injured worker movement. He brought to the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG) Research Action Committee his considerable experience on labour market inequities, employment discrimination and poverty faced by workers with disabilities. To quote John from his presentation to the 2018 Disability & Work in Canada national conference, in addressing these issues “timidity is not what we need.”
A career in the Ontario Public Service included positions with the Centre for Work and Disability, Employment Equity Commission and Accessibility Directorate. John served on numerous boards of social justice, human rights and disability rights organizations, among them the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), ARCH Disability Law Centre, the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario, the Clinic Law Advisory Committee of Legal Aid Ontario, and Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD). He advocated tirelessly to remove barriers and promote inclusion in all areas of social, civic – and work – life.
Whether delivering oral or written submissions with in-depth analysis (such as his 2018 brief on strengthening omnibus federal accessibility legislation), John’s skills as an educator and community organizer meant he was equally at home leading town halls, authoring articles, recording podcasts or participating in webinars – always in his unique forthright manner.
His commitment over many decades will be remembered by many, and has been formally recognized including the City of Toronto Access Award for Disability Issues, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities award, and the Ontario Historical Society’s Cruikshank Gold Medal.
To know John was to be in constant awe of his busy schedule which spoke not only to the breadth of his advocacy work but also to his wide-ranging personal interests and zest for life. Whether enjoying sport, music, food, theatre and the arts, history, or tracking current events, he sought to make them more accessible for all. A lifelong Blue Jays fan, he called out SportsNet for dropping radio play-by-play broadcasts; an inveterate world traveller (30 countries by last count) he wrote frequently on not just the challenges for those with disabilities but also the joys it afforded; a lover of art and cultural heritage, he engaged with institutions to help them provide access beyond the ramp.
We, his colleagues at IWC, will miss his resolute hands-on participation in our community board, the personal interest and encouragement he showed staff, the exuberant presence and humour at our social get-togethers.
Our condolences to his family and all the friends in the many communities whose lives he touched.
Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic
Many of John’s colleagues have spoken of his impact, personally and for the community. With their permission, we include below some of the remembrances. Please note also that the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians is hosting a Virtual Unstructured Celebration of the Life of John Rae on April 28 (more details).
“I will miss John Rae very much. Right from when I first met John, who was a board member of the ARCH Disability Law Centre when I was ARCH’s Director, he inspired me (and quite frankly, would accept nothing less of me than) to fight for complete and unconditional inclusion and equality for everyone on the planet, starting with people with disabilities and injured workers. He was a fighter for the good fight, a leader and a friend. John was an ardent supporter of the community legal clinic system and the movement that has at its core the quest for equal rights for all marginalized people. Along with his support came constant exhortations to act on our duty to all those that clinics are charged with serving. It is incumbent on all us in the clinics, in honour of John’s memory, to remember always that we must work for unwavering inclusion and equity in everything we do for everyone. The messages carried by his distinctive voice should continue to echo in our ears for years to come; now as part of John’s legacy. Even though John was constantly engaged in the quest for social justice, he found time to pursue a love for music and a good laugh at every opportunity. I have an email folder titled simply ‘John Rae’ in which I have kept his jokes and rants and poignant articles. I am very glad I kept that folder, now as a bitter-sweet memory of John and of a life very well lived.” – Ivana Petricone
“I first met John when OPSEU was forming a Caucus of disabled members. Throughout his time with caucus his knowledge and determined activism were a source of learning for the rest of us. I also recall our first visit to the Red Rock Folk Festival. We ended up having to stay at a hotel on the highway. It was suggested we travel with the musicians bus as the small town had no taxi. The first trip to the hotel was worrisome as the only performer did not seem impressed with us non musicians being on the bus. The next morning when we got on the bus a performer excitedly yelled “ is that John Rae”. That “ hey John” continued on every trip till the end of the concert. I learned John was as loved in the music community as he is in the activism community.” – Greg Snider
“I met John in 1989 when I was working for the March of Dimes in Thunder Bay. John was with the Ministry of Labour and he came to Thunder Bay to do a few workshops on how to use a physical demands analysis to make appropriate accommodations for workers with a disability in the workplace. We became fast friends. We often talked about connecting the Disability Rights folks with the Workers Rights with the Injured Workers activists with Human Rights activists. Imagine, what a force we could be.
John spent his life making those types of connections right across Canada. He served on so many committees and boards from the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Disability Rights Committee to the Council of Canadians with a Disability (CCD) to the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG) Research Action Committee (and many in between). He was both a fighter and a lover. He fought for our rights and loved his music and culture. He did it all with his particular style and left room for others to be who they were.
You will be missed my brother.” – Steve Mantis
“I came to know John mainly through the IWC Board. I came to rely on his thoughts and comments on Board matters. I also appreciated his penchant for action. He was not satisfied with just interpreting the world, he wanted to change it.” – Robert Storey
“I met John years ago when he was active in the OPSEU disability caucus. We wanted support for injured workers. He was an injured worker himself, but defined himself as a human rights activist. While his main interest was linked to the disability movement, he saw injured workers as an important part of it. He was attracted to IWC because of our commitment and flavour to activism. He played a growing leadership role on our board. If a financial report was delayed, it was not a fun time. Yet he always exhibited trust and confidence in our work. He was also working at different levels with ONIWG, including the research action committee where he stressed action over research with some choice words. He circulated many jokes on varying topics and for varied tastes. That too was one way to make tough times more bearable. A sweet no-nonsense human rights activist.” – Orlando Buonastella
“I knew John Rae as an unstoppable disability and human rights activist, a fervent supporter of the work of community legal aid clinics and a man of the world with a broad range of interests in life. He served on the Board of Directors of ARCH Disability Law Centre, Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic, the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario, and the Clinic Law Advisory Committee of the Legal Aid Ontario Board of Directors. He was a member of the Research Action Committee of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups. He had an incredible ability to support fellow activists and inspire us to do more and do better. He was a friend and a hero to many. He will always be an inspiration.” – John McKinnon
April 8, 2022 – “It is with sadness that we report that our fellow Council member John Rae passed away suddenly on the afternoon of April 8th in Toronto.
John was living his best life this past week going to a music concert, eating out with friends and attending a labour conference.
Over his three decades with CCD, John held many important positions in the organization, including chairing the CCD Social Policy Committee, serving on the Human Rights Committee and various positions on the Executive Committee. Most recently he represented CCD at side events of the Global Disability Summit.
John’s far-reaching work in the disability rights movement is immeasurable and collectively we mourn his loss. “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try,” John Fitzgerald Kennedy. John, this “Quote of the Day” is for you.” – Council of Canadians with Disabilities