Renaissance man joins the fight for human rights

When Max Rispin came to the Yukon in the ‘60s, the RCMP ran him out of town for selling encyclopedias without a licence.

When Max Rispin came to the Yukon in the ‘60s, the RCMP ran him out of town for selling encyclopedias without a licence.

This time around, he’s given up peddling books and he’s received a much warmer welcome.

Last month, the white-bearded, bright-eyed man, who has now retired from his many day jobs and taken up residence in Copper Ridge, was appointed to the Yukon Human Rights Commission.

When I phoned Rispin for an interview, I asked him if he had any time to meet for a coffee.

“My dear, I’m retired,” he answered.

Rispin, a native New Zealander, came to Canada in the ‘60s because he thought it would afford him easier passage to the US.

He went west from Ontario and, instead of turning left at Vancouver and heading down into California, he turned right and ended up in the Yukon.

For the past 40 years, he has lived and worked in all three territories.

After the brush with the police over the encyclopedias, Rispin started a record-long career in education and justice.

“I’ve been multitasking all my life,” he said. “Life is too short to stay in one single space.”

“I’ve never been out of work in my life.”

He once worked for $1 a day on a ranch.

He examined bodies as a coroner in the NWT.

He co-ordinated an emergency measures organization.

He was a firefighter and a member of the Armed Forces.

He taught in Old Crow for a year, and then ended up in the NWT teaching for more than 20 years. He landed in Fort McPherson as school principal.

He was the longest-serving senior justice of the peace in the Northwest Territories, holding the positing for more than 25 years.

For more than 50 years Rispin got up at a certain time to go to school or work.

Now he’s retired, and he’s getting a little bored.

“You’ve got an ingrained pattern for 50-odd years, and then you retire,” he said.

So sitting on boards is a way for him to give something back to the community, and to the North, and to occupy some time instead of becoming a “retired vegetable.”

Ask Rispin what he’s been doing for the past five years, he’ll say that he’s been gardening, chopping wood and working on his house.

His answer seems like a massive understatement when you consider how he fills his days.

Currently, Rispin is active in Yukon Crime Stoppers and St. John Ambulance; he sits on the Yukon Health and Social Services council and is national vice-president of the association of Public Service Alliance Retirees in the North.

With a lifetime of experience, the human rights commission appointment was a natural next step.

Rights issues have always been front and centre in Rispin’s life, and throughout his many career incarnations.

“We find the people in the Yukon really nice, open and friendly,” said Rispin. “However, in any society you have rednecks.”

And in any society, discrimination happens.

Race is probably the most common basis for discrimination, followed by disability and sex, said Rispin.

Yukon’s Human Rights Commission is an arm’s-length government body that promotes and educates people about human rights issues in the territory.

Its members administer the Yukon’s Human Rights Act.

Rispin joins chair Melissa Atkinson and Rick Goodfellow, John McCormick and Lois Moorcroft on the commission.