Remembering Ted Itani, dedicated humanitarian and Red Cross volunteer

This past week, Canadian Red Cross lost one of our long-time and beloved volunteers, Ted Itani. Throughout his life, Ted’s contributions to humanitarian work were truly extraordinary.

Canadian Red Cross volunteer Ted Itani in a red vestTed was born in Ucluelet on Vancouver Island in 1939, a third-generation Canadian of Japanese origin. During WWII his family was incarcerated for years in a camp on the Fraser River in B.C. as part of the forced removal of Japanese Canadians from their homes. Despite being Canadian citizens, they lost their home and their livelihood. Their possessions were all sold.

As a youth in Westbank Kelowna, Ted joined the cadets. This led to a 37-year career with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), including with NATO in Europe on three separate assignments and held command, staff and instructional posts in Canada and abroad. He was awarded the Order of Military Merit in 1991.

Ted retired from the CAF in 1994 and began a 26-year career in humanitarian aid work with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Canadian Red Cross.  Most notably, Ted assisted with a global landmine study which formed the basis of the Ottawa Treaty in 1997, aiming to eliminate anti-personnel landmines around the world, and regarded as one of the world's most widely accepted, as over 80 percent of the world's countries are States Parties to the treaty.

Ted joined the ICRC regional delegation in Central Asia in 1999, where he assisted the arms-carrying ministries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to implement International Humanitarian Law (IHL). From 2001 to 2003 he volunteered in Geneva on the Missing People Project.

After returning to Canada 2004, Ted supported the Canadian Red Cross Humanitarian Issues Program, particularly the IHL program where he was a mentor and teacher trainer. He also led Canadian Red Cross responses to natural disasters including Sri Lanka and Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami; 2005-06 earthquake relief in Pakistan; Operations Coordinator with Pakistan Red Crescent Society in Baluchistan (2008 earthquake); and in Pakistan during the 2010 floods.
In 2015, Ted was appointed to the Order of Canada in recognition of his dedication to humanitarian and peacekeeping work around the world, and in 2016 lent his expertise to the US State Department Global Peace Operations Initiative program as a Subject Matter Expert on human security, conflict prevention, conflict mitigation, post-conflict stabilization, reconstruction and reconciliation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. 

Ted once described volunteering as a "marvelous opportunity to give back to society what society has given me over my lifetime."

Canadian Red Cross CEO Conrad Sauvé said, “Ted was exceptional, and we are honoured that he gave so much of his time, dedication of service and infinite knowledge and experience to the Canadian Red Cross. This will live on and permeate throughout our people, our training, our responses and, in turn, extend throughout the country and the world. We could not be more grateful for his contributions.”

Ted’s passing is felt across the Canadian Red Cross and Red Cross Movement, as those who worked with him and learned from him reflect on his impact. Here are some reflections from those who worked closely with Ted:

"Ted captivated teachers for hours sharing lived experience as a survivor, as a soldier, as a peacekeeper, as an ICRC armed forces delegate, as a leader at the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre and as a humanitarian diplomat working on stopping the use of anti-personnel landmines. Ted was simply indefatigable, and his conviction of how important humanitarian education is for future generations, both soldiers and civilians, will spur my work for the rest of my career."

"Ted was a long-time mentor of mine, even though he loved to joke that I was his “boss” whenever he supported our humanitarian education events. When he spoke at our trainings, he inspired every teacher in the room to believe in their capacity to have a meaningful impact on their students. The teachers he was closest to have already shared that they will miss his “Ted Talks.” He was the most inspiring person I’ve ever met, and I will always miss him."

"Ted was one of my first mentors as a youth volunteer, helping me aspire to live by the fundamental principles. He demonstrated humanity with incredible empathy for those affected by conflict, and this is the most enduring quality that he passed on to us. I will forever remember him as a humanitarian in the truest form, always finding moments to educate everyone around him into the consequences of conflict. Thank you for being a great ambassador to our principles and values dear Ted."

"My last international trip with Ted was to Luxembourg. Ted ran out of travellers checks (they still exist apparently!!) and I told him he could use his banking card in any of the ATMs, to which he asked how it was that they would have Canadian bank notes in the bank machines in Luxembourg? When I told him the bank would just give him Euros and convert back he was genuinely amazed: 'Look how far we’ve come! I would have never thought to see something like that!'"

"To me, Ted was the epitome of military skills and experience at the service of the humanitarian cause. A real gentleman. I feel privileged having known him as both a colleague and a friend."

"Ted deeply believed in the power of humanity and in the mandate of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in relieving suffering around the world.  Ted brought a wealth of experience to the Movement not only from his background in the military but also as a racialized person, whose perspectives championed those who did not have equal representation.  This includes being an advocate for gender equality and for the inclusion of young people in humanitarian work.  His belief in diversity and empathy for others was well respected and brought so much value to our Movement as a whole. I am so very grateful that I had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from him.  I will bear his wisdom in mind whenever I tackle sticky challenges and hope to handle them with as much grace and humour as he did."

"Ted’s humility was one of the things that most struck me about him. The first time I met him, he was watering plants in the Ottawa Red Cross office. I was a bit starstruck, knowing everything he had accomplished, but later learned this was something Ted did regularly: went around the office and looked after the plants, pitching in where he could. Even when facilitating trainings, he would tell incredible stories to illustrate what we were learning, and then a minute later would lead us in some Tai Chi over our break to get us moving, or tell a joke. He was just such a genuine person and I feel so fortunate to have gotten to learn from him. I feel that Ted truly embodied what it means to be a humanitarian. He will be greatly missed."

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