Arnold Amber, a proud, passionate union leader, respected journalist, and fierce defender of free expression, died on Labour Day in a Toronto hospital with family at his bedside. He was 77.
Amber, director of TNG Canada from the time it was created in 1995 until he retired in 2011, shepherded its evolution into CWA Canada, the country’s only all-media union.
He earned many accolades and awards over his lengthy career as a CBC newsman, for his devotion to Canadian and international free expression organizations, as a trainer of journalists in emerging democracies, and for his unflagging dedication to improving conditions for all workers, especially those in media.
CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon, who took over from Amber in 2011, called him “a brilliant man who applied himself with equal discipline and passion to journalism, the labour movement, and defending freedom of the press.”
“All of us who knew Arnold will never forget his intelligence and sense of humour. He could be impatient and crusty, but he had a deeply tender and vulnerable side that made you love him.”
“He would have had some wry crack about what it took for him to miss a Labour Day parade; he marched every year. We’ll miss you old friend.”
Bernie Lunzer, president of the NewsGuild, said “Arnold Amber was of labour, and his passion and defence of it went back to the traditions he learned from his grandmother who worked with textile unions in Montreal. He worked hard on behalf of his peers at CBC and later for all the workers in what is now CWA Canada. As a leader he never forgot where he came from. He was truly a man of substance.”
Linda Foley, former TNG-CWA President and IFJ Vice-President, said: “Arnold Amber was a champion for media rights and workers’ rights. That’s why he placed such high value on his association with the IFJ. As a member of the Executive Committee, he brought focus, intelligence and quite a bit of humour to our meetings. A founder of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and IFEX, he fought tirelessly for press freedom and transparency. He articulated those values passionately and inclusively.
“Arnold not only ‘talked the talk’, as we say in North America, he also ‘walked the walk’. Every day, in every way. He was my dear friend from Canada. He will be missed by myself and so many others all over the world.”
Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America, said: “From the first time I met Arnold 20 years ago until the last time I saw him a year ago, Arnold demonstrated a constant commitment to the union and to a progressive world. He never gave up fighting for his life despite debilitating disease and he never stopped fighting to build the movement.”
Amber served as president of the CBC branch of the Canadian Media Guild (CWA Canada Local 30213) through significant periods in the public broadcaster’s history, such as the creation of a single bargaining unit for English-language employees in 2004 and the 50-day lockout the following year.
Prior to joining the CBC, Amber was a Reuters correspondent in Africa and Europe, contributing to leading international newspapers, magazines and broadcasters, as well as working as a media trainer.
In 1994, he led an international team that directed South Africa’s public broadcaster’s coverage of the country’s first democratic elections.
In 2014, the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom presented Amber its Spencer Moore Award for lifetime achievement.
The innovative executive TV producer, who won three Gemini awards for news specials, had a long list of accomplishments. They included:
- Founder of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. He served as its president for two decades, participating in numerous campaigns in support of journalists in crisis and lobbying for legislation to protect their rights.
- Helped create the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), which speaks out whenever media workers are victims of harassment, violence and murder. It’s the world’s largest network of free expression advocates, with more than 80 member organizations.
- Served for six years on the executive of the International Federation of Journalists. He was a member of the IFJ’s select committee that examined transition issues facing media around the world and in 2010 published Journalism: Unions in Touch with the Future.
- In 2013, he was presented with the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Ottawa, followed by a master’s degree in political studies from Queen’s University, where he later taught and contributed to books on African politics and televised election debates.
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