The Echenberg Family has had a century long relationship with McGill University, starting with the Gordon’s Father in 1907. Members of the family benefiting from their McGill educations have gone on to become professors, lecturers and governors of McGill, as well as world renowned doctors, researchers, teachers, community leaders, activists, social workers, businessmen, bank presidents and journalists. The breath of study and the quality of education offered by McGill has benefited over 35 members of this family. It is in their honor and on their behalf that this conference series has been founded by Penny and Gordon.
Gordon has had a particularly close relationship with the university, having enrolled in the Faculty of Commerce exactly fifty years ago in 1957. He immediately became active in student affairs and debating, while he switched faculties and graduated with his B.A. in 1961. In 1962-1963 he became president the Students Society and obtained his B.C.L. in 1964. While president of the Students Society he became a founding member and director of Les leagues de droite l’homme. In 1988 he also became a founding member and director of InterAmicus, the McGill based international human rights advocacy centre. Along the way in 1963 he represented McGill on a debating tour throughout the British Isles. Upon graduation he received a World University Service Scholarship and participated in its 1964 seminar in Algeria. Shortly after graduation he was invited to join the committee to revise the university statutes. Immediately thereafter, in 1969 at the age of 29 he was appointed to the university’s Board of Governors, where he served for three consecutive five-year terms until 1985. To date he is the youngest independent governor ever appointed. He also served as a sessional lecturer in the Faculty of Law for three years. After retiring from the Board he was again in, 1995, asked to serve on a committee to make recommendations with regard to the university’s future and he recently rekindled his active involvement with McGill by founding of this series of conferences with his wife Penny. In addition to McGill, Gordon also served on the Board of Governors of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, where he became Vice-Chairman and a member of its Executive Committee. In 1979, he acted as Chairman of the University’s Constitution Committee.
For both Penny and Gordon, human rights are not matters of theory and therefore should not be compromised by “political correctness” nor should they become “the victims of appeasement in the face of terror”. Rather they should figure prominently and consistently in government policy. To protect human rights objective facts must act as the point of departure in any analysis and not partisan political objectives. To advance human rights context must be one of the foundation blocks of any evaluation as well as any course of action. Victims cannot be cast as aggressors, while balance and context must figure in any equation where fault is being apportioned and action is being suggested. Equally, no one, no institution and no society should be above fair, objective and constructive criticism. While human rights can often not be universally enforced, adherence to, inter alia, the foregoing principles are paramount if they are to be spread.
These Conferences were founded in the hope that they will constitute meaningful stepping-stones for the practical implementation of human rights. This is best reflected in the following statement of purpose, which was agreed to by the Echenbergs and the university.
“The immediate as well as the ultimate goal of these Major Conferences is to bridge the gap between academia, including Human Rights research and writings, and the pragmatics of daily life thereby potentially having some social impact. By assembling various high profile and highly regarded scholars, judges, politicians, business people, students, as well as other stakeholders from various countries and jurisdictions, and recording the proceedings, the Donor and the University, acting through the Centre, hope to foster a greater understanding of the importance as well as the role of human rights issues in the daily lives of individual citizens everywhere.”