Stabbing victim William Bryant remembered for his four-decade tenure with Amnesty International

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For much, if not all, of the more than 40 years that William Bryant worked for Amnesty International in Ottawa, he went to great lengths to organize a monthly celebration for co-workers on the occasion of their birthdays.

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They were known as Cake Days, because Bryant had cataloged not only everyone’s birthdays, but also their favorite desserts. Once a month, Bryant made sure that all the celebrants were present and presented with exactly the cake or pie they most wanted.

“If you had a sweet tooth, it was a glorious occasion,” recalls Alex Neve, who was secretary general of the English section of Amnesty International Canada for two decades.

Fantastic baked goods aside, Bryant’s self-funded actions demonstrated, month after month, the enormous generosity and sense of camaraderie that were vital parts of his life, Neve says.

“Cake Day was a way of telling us all that everyone matters, everyone is special, everyone deserves to be celebrated and that it was so important to do it together,” Neve recalls. “Everyone left Cake Day feeling better about themselves, feeling uplifted to be together.

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“At Amnesty it was about people helping other people, joining other people,” says Neve. “This is how he lived his life. He was always looking for small and big gestures to make a difference in the lives of those who were very near and dear to him.

Neve and members of the Amnesty International community in Canada have been reeling this month as Bryant, 74, was fatally stabbed on May 9 in an apartment complex on the east end of Ottawa. Ahmed Ismail, 43, was arrested near the scene of the crime, an apartment complex at 2750 Carousel Cres. in the Emerald Woods neighborhood and charged with second degree murder.

Says Neve, who was also one of the three commissioners of the Ottawa People’s Commission on the Convoy Occupation: “The news that someone has been killed is impossible to process, but I think there is something even more jarring here.

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“We are talking about a man whose every word, every gesture, every moment of his life was based on compassion, concern and consideration, a man who in no way would have crossed paths with violence,” he says. He snowed.

“For her to come to an end in such a cruel and violent way, it is simply impossible to comprehend.”

Bryant, who was called Will by friends and co-workers, grew up in Hamilton and attended McMaster University before moving to Ottawa. A 2018 Amnesty International article profiling veteran activists around the world said Bryant came from a family of social justice activists, joining the nonprofit human rights organization in 1973, shortly after it was founded. form its Canadian branch.

“I hate injustice with a passion!” Bryant says in the article. “I was excited by the idea that people could speak directly to governments and demand justice, demand change.

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“In my life I want to see that human rights are respected everywhere. I have witnessed the arrival of peace in Northern Ireland and the restoration of respect for human rights in Chile. Now I want to see respect for human rights in places like China and Myanmar, and an end to the backsliding on human rights in the US. I want to see a world that is more welcoming to refugees.”

Neve remembers meeting Bryant in 1985 when, as a Dalhousie University law student, he was visiting Ottawa for a friend’s wedding. Neve says that she became curious about Amnesty International and met Bryant at the organization’s office.

Neve remembers that Bryant, then and later, was incredibly nice.

“You always had the feeling that he could have spent all the time in the world to be with you… you were the only thing that mattered in that moment.”

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Thanks to Bryant, Neve left with a stack of brochures, books and T-shirts to take back to Halifax. “I was absolutely convinced that she was on the right track,” says Neve, who was secretary general of the English section of Amnesty International Canada from 2000 to 2020.

Bryant “was such a fine man and should be remembered in that way,” says Bonnie Harnden, who worked at Amnesty International from 1987 to 2014.

Over the years, Bryant held various positions in the Amnesty International office, helping with administration and fundraising. In the Amnesty International community, Bryant was known for being the first point of contact for a legion of members and for attending all the annual general meetings.

“He was the longest-serving staff member in Canada,” says Neve.

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Outside of his job, Bryant, a gay man, was very outgoing but also very reserved, Harnden says. Bryant loved opera and played piano and organ at Alta Vista Baptist Church, where he was a member.

Harnden says Bryant was outgoing and enjoyed “every festival that was going on… He was the best person to talk to if you wanted to know what to do in Ottawa.”

Since 2018, Bryant has been a volunteer with Capital Rainbow Refuge, a non-profit organization founded in 2010 to sponsor and support LGBTQI+ refugees.

“When she heard about Capital Rainbow Refuge, she jumped on both feet,” says Lisa Hébert, chair of the organization’s board of directors. “She really blossomed in this role and valued the opportunity to give back.”

Bryant was a Capital Rainbow Refuge board member, volunteer and committee member, and was involved in two sponsorships, Hébert says. “He had such a kind way of communicating that he helped bring difficult problems to fruition. He always did things with a smile,” he said.

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Hébert says the person accused of killing Bryant has no connection to his organization. He also says that Bryant did not live in the apartment building where he was killed.

Bryant is survived by two brothers, his children and his children’s children. “He touched all the relatives with his sweetness and kindness,” says the death note presented by the family.

A funeral will be held at Capital Funeral Home and Cemetery, 3700 Prince of Wales Dr., on May 25 at 2 p.m. people everywhere.”

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