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Todd Ross On The Canada He Wants And What He Is Doing About It

07/24/2013 04:09 EDT | Updated 09/23/2013 05:12 EDT

Like the famous Metis proverb -- "If you want to grow strong, never forget your roots" -- Todd Ross has certainly not forgotten his rich and diverse roots. The ambitious activist has truly become one of the most influential advocates for a slew of public issues here at home and abroad. He shares with me the many causes he is involved in, reflects on his aboriginal heritage and his dream for Canada.

You have been involved with many causes from HIV/AIDS to human rights and immigration. Why are you passionate about these issues and share with me your experience?

I have a strong sense of social justice that was instilled in me by my parents. When I was young we were taught the importance of helping others out - the need to be involved in our community and to do what was right.

I've stayed close to my community - when I look around the neighborhood the issues that I see affecting people are health, housing, poverty and employment, human rights, and I see the ever-increasing threat of our inaction to protect the planet. Inaction frustrates me and I know there is much to be done.

One of the organizations that I am proud to Chair is the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. We are tasked by the City of Toronto to reduce emissions and to improve Toronto's air quality. Because we focus on the problems - we are able to make direct reduction in emissions while creating employment and saving money. It's win win.

My reward for all of this work is that I get satisfaction in helping others - and in knowing that we are working to leave the world a better place for tomorrow. This drives my passion.

Tell me about your involvement with Casey House and some of the unique work that makes it a unique organization?

At Casey House, I was drawn to the organization because as a gay man and as an Aboriginal, my communities are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. It is a specialty hospital for People Living with HIV/AIDS. We provide complex medical care. I love when I hear from patients that they have had a good experience at Casey House and that Casey House provided the extra boost they needed. I also love that we have a fantastic team of volunteers and staff who go above and beyond to ensure that the patient is always at the center of care.

The final element to the compassionate care is the relationship with our community partners. AIDS service organizations in Toronto work together to provide a wonderful quilt of care and services for People Living with HIV/AIDS and we work very hard to ensure that everyone receives the best possible care and treatment through a seamless system.

One of the objectives of the group is to help find a "reasonable routes of escape and safe haven for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) people from state authorized, enabled or tolerated violence, murder or persecution". Please explain

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Transexual people around the world face persecution simply for who they are. According to the United Nations Report in December of 2012 on LGBT rights, "76 countries have laws that criminalize behavior on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."

This is just not right. Ultimately we hope that Rainbow Railroad and organizations like us will not have to exist because people will be safe from any type of discrimination but for now we keep working with local organizations to help people who are in immediate risk to escape to countries where they will be safe. We are very small and the demand is great but we are doing a small part and we are saving lives.

You have been passionate about Aboriginal health / issues for a while now. Share with me your experience.

My spirit name is Wabanquot (White Cloud) and I am Migizi Clan (Eagle Clan). My spirit name, clan and heritage are important to me and it is important for me to reflect on the responsibility to my community that comes with this.

There is great work being done in the community and we are fortunate to have so many leaders and committed people who are working on our behalf. But the need is greater than the current structure. I see the pain and suffering in my community and I feel the need to be involved - to help in whatever way I can.

In my work, I see the biggest change can occur through understanding and education between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Idle No More continues to be a fantastic movement that is addressing this need but this is just a start. It is through more education and understanding that we will remove the barriers and create an environment of understanding and embrace.I believe that the power of education and understanding will be instrumental in the eighth fire prophecy as we move into a time of healing and harmony.

Where would you want to be in the next decade with your signature activism?

It continues on my sense of social justice, the need to be involved and the need to do what's right. To quote Bill Clinton, "we need to focus on solving problems and seizing opportunities." This is not happening today in Ottawa.

In the next decade I want to see us focus on solving some of the greatest problems that have ever faced our nation. Let's focus on climate change and leave a better planet for tomorrow. Let's focus on poverty - on child poverty - and address the social determinants of health.

Let's focus on strengthening the economy and creating opportunities and jobs - for all. Let's focus on equitable health care across Canada - and let's focus on wellness, a plan for medications and for our aging population. And let's focus on getting back to the table with First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples - to live up to our treaty obligations - to make this right - with dialogue and conversations - not closed doors and ultimatums.

In the next decade - I want to see people's pride restored in Canada - let's move away from the politics of division and re-engage people. Toronto Center is a community of communities. Our communities are strong and when we work together, we can make change happen.