HOF049: William Janzen

William (Bill) Janzen, Ph. D in Political Science from Carleton University, served as director of the Ottawa Office of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) from 1975 to 2008. That role led to an involvement with refugee issues on several occasions. Particularly significant was the negotiation, early in 1979, of Canada’s first Master Agreement for the Private Sponsorship of Refugees.

In the fall of 1978 the news were filled with reports about desperate people fleeing Vietnam in small boats hoping for temporary asylum in neighbouring countries and permanent resettlement somewhere else. These reports aroused strong feelings among the Mennonite people of Canada who had a history both of being refugees and of helping refugees. Thus, at the MCC ‘s Annual General Meeting in Calgary in January 1979, Bill was directed to return to Ottawa and work out an arrangement so that Mennonite churches could bring over as many refugees as possible.

Negotiating such an arrangement was not particularly difficult. The officials were receptive and the new Immigration Act that had come into force in April 1978, had provisions they could build on. After the MCC and the government signed its agreement on March 5, 1979, a number of other church groups signed the identical agreements and the private sponsorship avenue became much larger than expected. Partly because of that the government soon tripled its own projections. Bill remains very active in the Mennonite community. As a volunteer, he has taken refugee kids to soccer, summer camps and some activities at his church.