Oct 15, 2011 - A YOUNG WOMAN WHO LEFT A LARGE FOOTPRINT

Not so long ago, Alexandra Dodger’s peers at McGill law school unofficially voted her the most likely “I-remember-her-when” candidate. Hearing this, she may have rolled her eyes and smiled humbly. But as her short life demonstrated, they were right on the mark.

Dodger’s goals were always high. At 27, this young woman’s work as a social justice and human rights activist surpassed that of colleagues more than twice her age.

She worked for student governments at the University of Toronto, McMaster University and McGill. She coached International Model UN events, headed up NDP MP Olivia Chow’s riding association and did legal internships in Israel, Paris and Belgium. She was fluent in Polish, French and English.

Colleagues praised Dodger for exhibiting qualities all law students and young lawyers should have: rock hard principles, outstanding courage and dedication to helping people.

“If we had more people like [Dodger] going through our law schools, we would have a completely different society,” said Toronto lawyer Omar Ha-Redeye.

She was strong, argumentative and articulate. She was warm, vulnerable and inspired. Had she made it to 30, who knows what she would have accomplished?

Instead, Dodger was struck and killed near Ottawa’s ByWard Market on Oct. 16 by a driver going the wrong way on a one-way street. Charges have been laid in the case.

She had been working late that night and had met a friend in a pub for last call. Alarms went off the next morning when she failed to make a brunch meeting.

She was truly brilliant, thoughtful and passionately committed to rattling the status quo, Chow said. “Alex did everything with a sense of humour and charisma. Her determination and conviction … will be forever lodged in our memories. We can hardly imagine what chaos she would have inflicted on the ‘1 per cent.’ What kind of just society she would have helped create.”

After graduating from law school, Dodger took an articling position with Amnesty International in Ottawa – a perfect fit. During her three months with the organization she made significant inroads within the Syrian-Canadian community, documenting patterns of harassment and intimidation people had experienced at the hands of the Syrian government.

She also helped finalize a detailed legal brief that went to the Canadian government in September. This brief makes the case that the government is legally obligated to investigate, arrest and prosecute former U.S. president George Bush for crimes related to torture.

“[Bush’s]visit to Canada came after her death,” said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada. “He arrived in Canada on Oct. 20, which very poignantly – and I know it was on my mind, and I’m sure it was on the minds of others as well – was the day of her funeral.”

Alexandra Dodger was born in Toronto on Dec. 23, 1983. Her mother, Margaret Wojciechowski, came to Canada from Poland in 1964 with her parents and sisters. She was a single mother in a working-class community. Alexandra was her only child.

At 18, Alexandra changed her name, hoping to ease pronunciation and spelling challenges. She chose “Alexandra McFabulous Artful-Dodger,” and used it unfailingly for several years.

In 2005, opting for a more conservative name – especially given the former name’s connection to Dickensian conniving – she legally changed it to Dodger.

She graduated from Toronto’s Silverthorn Collegiate in 2001 and began a history and Celtic studies program at the University of Toronto. Dodger also stepped on to the stage as an effective and committed student activist.

As an elected official of U of T’s Students’ Administrative Council, Dodger spearheaded Toronto Transit Commission’s Metropass discount for students. She also won a battle saving undergraduate students more than $2-million annually on health insurance. She served three terms as national executive representative of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students.

Dodger was facilitating at an activist fair on campus in preparation for a Free Trade of the Americas protest when the late environmental activist Tooker Gomberg was suddenly shoved into the back of a campus police cruiser. He had been protesting Big Oil with a model of Earth, which unexpectedly exploded.

“They’re arresting Tooker!” Dodger screamed, immediately rounding up 200 young activists to surround the cruiser. Shortly after, Jack Layton arrived at the scene on his bicycle. Within minutes, Layton had talked down the police, who set Gomberg free, and encouraged the crowd to return to the fair. All the while, Dodger held his bike.

NDP MP Dan Harris worked with Dodger in Ontario New Democratic Youth in the early 2000s. Days after her death, he made a one-minute statement in the House of Commons honouring her. It was received with a standing ovation.

“Alex was an extraordinary woman who was passionate about life and was determined to improve the lives of those around her,” Harris said. “She cared deeply about giving a voice to the voiceless.”

Dodger graduated from U of T in 2006 and began her master of arts degree in history at McMaster University. She continued with her political work, moving the bulk of it off campus. As president of the Trinity-Spadina NDP Riding Association, she was key in helping send Chow to the House of Commons for the first time.

In 2007, she moved to Montreal to study law at McGill. During this time, she took her political involvement well beyond the borders of Canada.

She completed a legal internship in Israel and the Palestinian territories during the summer of 2008. The next summer she worked as a clerk in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, seeking justice for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity. That autumn she worked for an international law firm in Paris.

“Alexandra was my student in public international law,” said Payam Akhavan, an associate professor at McGill University. “She was a thoughtful and brilliant student who had a deep commitment to using her education to further human rights.”

One day her bicycle was stolen while she was in class at McGill. A few days later, she discovered it locked up elsewhere on campus. Outraged, she brought a bolt-cutter to school and grabbed back the bike, leaving an article from the Civil Code of Quebec to justify the reposition.

Friends said this kind of thing resulted from Dodger’s passion and fearlessness. Nothing stopped her.

Dodger graduated from McGill last May and almost immediately began a prestigious and demanding fellowship with Amnesty International Canada in Ottawa.

“This was a young woman who left a big footprint in many places,” Neve said. “But everywhere it was both her heart and her mind and that is, I think, perhaps above all else, the reason I feel she’s going to be someone who is deeply, deeply missed.”

Dodger leaves her mother, Margaret Wojciechowski, her grandparents, Cecile and Stanley Wojciechowski, two aunts and four cousins.

Source: Globe and Mail


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Last updated on: 2014-04-20 | Link to this post