Dosanjh, Ujjal

Ujjal Dosanjh, lawyer, civil rights activist, politician, premier of British Columbia 2000-2001 (b at Dosanjh Kalan, Punjab, India 9 September 1947). Dosanjh was born into a politically active family in a small village in northern India. Both his father and maternal grandfather were involved in the country's movement for independence from Britain.

Dosanjh immigrated to England at the age of 17, learning English while working at a variety of jobs. In 1968 Dosanjh left England for Canada, settling in Vancouver, where he worked in a sawmill and took college courses in the evening. He went on to receive a BA in political science from Simon Fraser University and a law degree from the University of British Columbia. He became involved in civil rights issues during his student years.

Dosanjh's activism continued after he established a private law practice in Vancouver in 1979. Following the terrorist bombing of Air India flight 182 in 1985, he publicly denounced those who advocated violence as a means of securing an independent Sikh homeland in India. He was then severely beaten outside his law office by a man wielding a metal bar, an attack that almost killed Dosanjh, who required 80 stitches to close the cuts on his head. He attracted much public attention when he continued to speak out against extremism.

Dosanjh ran unsuccessfully for the provincial New Democratic Party in the elections of 1979 and 1983, before winning a seat in the legislature in 1991. In 1995 he entered the cabinet as Minister of Government Services. That year he was promoted to attorney-general, where he gained a reputation for a strong, measured approach to controversial issues, including the armed standoff between aboriginal people and the RCMP at Gustafsen Lake, and criminal allegations against the leader of his own government, Premier Glen Clark.

Elected leader of the provincial NDP in 2000, Dosanjh became premier, taking over from Clark, who had resigned amid accusations of improper involvement in a neighbour's casino licence application. Though he endeavoured to distance himself from his predecessor, Dosanjh lost the election of 2001. He returned to the practice of law until 2004.

Dosanjh ran as a star candidate for the Liberal Party in the federal election of 2004, winning a seat in Parliament. Named health minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Paul Martin, he worked to prevent the provinces from privatizing the public health care system. Though the Liberals were defeated in the 2006 federal election, Dosanjh played a leading role in the campaign in British Columbia, winning his own seat of Vancouver South and helping the party increase its support in the province. Dosanjh was re-elected again in 2008, and in 2009 he was named the Official Opposition Critic for National Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Public Safety.