2013 Hero: Syed Hussan
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2013 Hero: Syed Hussan

Nominated for: helping a whole city become a safer haven for those who need one.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

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Toronto is home to hundreds of thousands of residents who have no legal status in Canada, or whose right to live here is subject to indefinite review. Undocumented residents are among the most vulnerable people in our city; when they end up in our hospitals, our shelters, and our courtrooms, they face a different and often undefined set of rules. Of the many advocates who raised our consciousness about the plight of undocumented people in 2013, Syed Hussan was a particularly consistent and effective voice.

In February, Hussan and activists with the Solidarity City Network asked city council to renew its commitment to serving all residents, regardless of status. Speaking as someone who himself lacks full status in Canada, Hussan argued that “living in fear of simply going to school, visiting a food bank or community centre, or just walking down the street has been a reality for thousands of Torontonians for too long.” City council agreed, and voted 37-3 to make Toronto a so-called “sanctuary city” where undocumented residents have full access to the local services they pay for.

Hussan also spent much of 2013 promoting the plight of refugee claimants who have been detained for months or years in Canada without charges or a trial. Hussan has advocated for the likes of Mohammad Mahjoub, Michael Mvogo, and scores of detainees waging ongoing hunger strikes at a maximum security prison in Linsday.

Hussan’s activism in 2013 was not confined to migrant issues: he helped to organize significant public demonstrations after Sammy Yatim was killed by a Toronto police officer, and led protestors to the doors of a Joe Fresh after neglect by one of the company’s suppliers led to a deadly factory collapse in Bangladesh.

Given that Hussan was arrested and charged with conspiracy for organizing protests at the G20 summit in 2010—charges which were eventually dropped—he could understandably have fallen silent in recent years. Instead, the 29-year-old activist has become one of the city’s most visible and prominent advocates for change.