Charan Gill in a photo posted to twitter.com/sukhdhaliwal.

Charan Gill in a photo posted to twitter.com/sukhdhaliwal.

OBITUARY: Charan Gill, founder of Surrey’s PICS and champion of farmers, was ‘a living legend’

‘Charan was a beacon of light for thousands of immigrants and newcomers to Canada’

** This story has been updated

Charanpal (Charan) Gill, founder and former CEO of Surrey-based Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS), died on Tuesday morning (Feb. 2) following a battle with cancer. He was 84.

He took his last breath at Langley Memorial Hospital surrounded by family, according to an email from Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce.

Gill co-founded the Canadian Farmworkers Union in 1978 as a way to improve the human rights, health, safety and employment standards of farm workers, among his many other projects.

In his lifetime, Gill was awarded the Order of B.C. and the B.C. Human Rights Award by MOSAIC, among many other honours.

In 2017 Gill retired after 30 years of work with PICS, and Satbir Cheema became the new CEO of PICS Society.

“We call him the living legend, that’s the name I gave him, because he’s done so much for the community,” Cheema said Tuesday. “His heart was in whatever he did. He will be greatly missed.”

Sukh Dhaliwal, MP for Surrey-Newton, tweeted his condolences on Tuesday.

“Charan was a beacon of light for thousands of immigrants and newcomers to Canada over many decades,” Dhaliwal posted. “My sincere condolences go out to the Gill family and the PICS organization. Rest in peace my friend.”

Jagrup Brar, MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, also tweeted his condolences.

“Today we lost Charan Gill, a trailblazing champion of the people,” Brar posted. “Charan fought for farmworkers, immigrants, seniors & all. He leaves a legacy to inspire others to carry on the struggle for a better society.”

(Story continues below video)

A bio posted to southasiancanadianheritage.ca shows Gill was born in Hong Kong in 1936. Years later, as a social worker in the Lower Mainland, Gill worked with many families.

“There was a lot of conflict between parents and their children. Many couples committed suicide because they wanted to get married but their parents didn’t approve. This is when Charanpal decided that the Punjabi community needed counselling services,” the bio says of the 1987 origins of Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS).

In 1981 he co-founded the British Columbia Organization to Fight Racism, which later grew into the Canadian Anti-Racism Education and Research Society.

In 2013, Gill was among four British Columbians to receive an honourary doctor of laws at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s (KPU) spring convocation.

Gill leaves behind “a legacy of activism in the service of working people,” his family said in a statement. “He has inspired many people to engage in the struggle for a better world, without religious, ethnic or gender oppression, a world where all can live in communal harmony. His example and inspiration will guide us for a long time.”

Gill is survived by his three children and their spouses Jack Gill and Amrit, Paul Gill and Sarbjit, Rani Gill and Peter; his grandchildren Sean, Brandon, Alicia, Jovin, Arjun; great grandchild Robin, and his extended family in BC as well as in the U.K., Hong Kong and India.

The family says gifts in memory of Gill are welcomed at KEATCA (“to support scholarship grants for education in healthcare, community services, social work”) and PICS, in support of Guru Nanak Diversity Village to be built in Cloverdale.

A family funeral, limited due to COVID-19, will be held at Riverside Funeral Home in Delta. A Celebration of Life for Charan Gill will be held at a later date, the family says.

On Wednesday, British Columbia Federation of Labour released a statement about Gill’s death.

“Our province’s labour movement joins British Columbians everywhere mourning the death of Charan Gill. We will always remember his courage, warmth and compassion, along with his lifelong commitment to justice,” the organization stated.

“Co-founding the Canadian Farmworkers Union took extraordinary courage, vision and an unshakeable belief in the power of people working together for a greater good. He, Raj Chouhan and the farmworkers they organized stood their ground against bitter opposition from wealthy, powerful forces. They prevailed, dramatically improving the laws and working conditions governing farm work in our province.

“That same bravery allowed Charan to stand up to neo-Nazis and the KKK, stemming their growth here with the creation of the British Columbia Organization to Fight Racism. And his faith in collective action led him to found what has become the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society, an invaluable lifeline for the South Asian community, new immigrants, seniors, farmworkers, women and at-risk youth to this day.

“We feel Charan’s absence especially keenly with the approach of the annual Golden Tree memorial ceremony next month. He was instrumental in winning stronger safety rules in the aftermath of the terrible accident that claimed the lives of three farmworkers, and he has played a prominent role in every one of these memorials. That he won’t attend this one simply feels impossible.

“Countless thousands of British Columbians are living better, happier lives today because of Charan Gill. Nobody has done more to embody the value of solidarity. He changed our province for the better, and we will always be grateful. Now Charan will be with us all in spirit.

“To Charan’s family, our deepest condolences on your loss. We grieve with you, and we offer our profound appreciation for sharing him with us all for these many years.”

The bio on southasiancanadianheritage.ca sheds light on Gill’s arrival in Canada, as a man in his 20s.

“The Punjabi community faced a lot of discrimination at the time that Charanpal had moved to Vancouver,” the bio says. “Charanpal was forced to cut his hair because no one would hire him and he hated the way he looked without a turban. Soon however, Charanpal found a job at a mill in William’s Lake.

“He recalls that some days his feet would swell up to the point where he couldn’t take off his shoes. One day, after he had slipped on ice and broke his wrist, he decided to stop working at the mill. Charanpal then came across a program that helped orphans find a place to live. The director told him to meet him in Prince George. When Charanpal went to Prince George he was offered a job as a social worker. After completing a one-month training he moved to Prince Rupert to start his new job. After working in Prince Rupert for 5 years, Charanpal decided that he wanted to earn a Bachelor’s degree in social work. The company agreed and transferred him to Burnaby to begin his studies.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Tom on Twitter

Obituaries

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey’s Panorama Ridge Secondary. (Photo: listings.kaassociates.ca)
Police investigating assault with a weapon at Panorama Ridge Secondary in Surrey

School placed on a ‘hold and secure’ until safety of all students confirmed

On some blocks in North Delta it was nearly end-to-end refuse during the city’s 2018 Spring Clean-Up. (James Smith photo)
Delta’s Large Item Pick-Up Program starts today

Beginning March 1, residents will be able to dispose of up to four large household items per year

B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Murder conviction upheld in case where Surrey mom was stabbed in front of her kids

Jury in 2017 found Tanpreet Kaur Athwal, aka Sonia Kaur Gill, guilty of first-degree murder in 2007 death of Amanpreet Bahia, 33

Hospital outbreaks included in Fraser Health update Feb. 28, 2021. (Black Press file)
Fraser Health declares COVID-19 outbreaks at Chilliwack General and Surrey Memorial

The medicine units are temporarily closed but ERs remain open, according to Fraser Health update

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 vaccination set to start for B.C. seniors aged 80-plus

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on October 27, 2020. The City of Vancouver says it has purchased a former hotel at a major thoroughfare that can house about 65 units to accommodate homeless people. A joint news release by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and city says 2075 Kingsway, Days Inn by Wyndham Vancouver, will be ready for accommodation this November. The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen also announced a $51.5 million Rapid Housing Initiative for Vancouver that is expected to create 135 new affordable homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Former Vancouver hotel to be converted to 65 units for homeless people by the fall

The former Days Inn on Kingsway will be ready to house people in November

Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

(Pxhere)
Compensation fund opens for B.C. students negatively affected by incorrect exam marks

Marks for 2019 provincial exams were incorrectly tabulated

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Time to check the mail: Every household to receive a Canada Post postcard this spring

Postcard can be mailed for free to any address in Canada

The humanoid sensing robot has a 3D printed finger cap that measures oxygen levels. (Dr. Woo Soo Kim)
Medical care robots being made with 3D origami in B.C. lab

Would you let a robot take your temperature?

Most Read