Mr. Tom Denton was born in 1934 in Amherst, Nova Scotia, and in the formative years that followed, developed a finely tuned sense of injustice.
As a child, he was horrified when his father’s colleague, an esteemed Baptist minister and black man, was refused service at restaurants. As an arts student at Acadia University years later, he spoke out in an opinion piece in the student newspaper effectively putting an end to offensive minstrel shows on campus. Once he became a corporate lawyer with a degree from Dalhousie University in 1958, he convinced senior management to raise the pensions of employees who had been acquired through corporate takeover. He was also concerned about the democracy of a city with only one newspaper, and therefore launched the Winnipeg Sun with three partners, in 1980.
When Mr. Denton convinced his Rotary club to sponsor a Vietnamese refugee family in the late 1970s, his background in law and his unyielding moral conscience found the perfect fit, and so begun a journey of compassion and care that has endured.
He has been called “the godfather of the refugee settlement sector in Canada”. From 1984 to 2000, Mr. Denton was the executive director at the International Centre of Winnipeg supporting the needs of government-aided refugees. When he became frustrated by the number of people still turned away by the government, he created a platform through his church to bring in privately sponsored refugees.
Mr. Denton retired in 2000, but remained a highly sought-after speaker and policy consultant across the globe. He has served on the Council of the Sponsorship Agreement Holders of Canada; the Canadian Council for Refugees; the Premier’s Economic Advisory Council Immigration Task Force; and as chair of the Manitoba Immigration Council.
In 2006, he took on the executive director position at the Hospitality House Refugee Ministry. He remains at the helm more than a decade later, helping privately sponsored refugees navigate a complex process, and in turn, successfully sponsor their own relatives to reunite family.
Mr. Denton’s refugee rights and integration policy is considered protocol by countries around the world. He has called the fateful and systemic cruelties that refugees face “the fundamental moral issue of our time”, and is a fearless critic of government and regulatory bodies in his advocacy for updated policy and further assistance. Mr. Denton has been personally involved in the settlement of more than 40,000 refugees. For his remarkable efforts, he was inducted into the Order of Manitoba in 2014.
The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to Mr. Thomas Ralston Denton, a seminal figure in human rights work and a hero to tens of thousands of refugees.