Home News Founding Ottawa Office director Bill Janzen honoured with the Order of Canada

Founding Ottawa Office director Bill Janzen honoured with the Order of Canada

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Bill Janzen, right, who was recently appointed to the Order of Canada, and his wife, Marlene Janzen, left, stand with Dr. Stephanie Stobbe (centre), at an event at the Senate of Canada in May 2024. Stobbe is lead researcher and curator with heartsoffreedom.org. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stobbe.

By Leslie Ann Boctor

Winnipeg, Man.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada is pleased to announce that William (Bill) Janzen, former director of MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office, has been appointed to the Order of Canada this July in recognition of his contributions to government policy, refugee resettlement, citizenship, development aid and peacebuilding.

As the founding director of MCC’s Ottawa Office, Bill has shaped peace and justice initiatives both in Canada and abroad during his long history of service and influence. Bill led the Ottawa Office from its inception in 1975 until 2008. 

The Ottawa Office, now known as the Peace & Justice Office, was tasked with both political and public engagement. This was a new direction for MCC Canada at the time — establishing government advocacy on behalf of issues related to its national and international programs while monitoring government policy for Mennonite and Brethren in Christ constituency.

The goal was to amplify the voices and concerns of MCC partners around the world, addressing issues such as capital punishment, cluster munitions, mining justice, immigration and government foreign policy. In his 33 years with MCC Canada, Bill worked alongside different coalitions, taking a lead role in advocating to the Canadian government on issues of peace and justice. 

Bill Janzen, center, in discussion at 1980 MCC annual meeting in Vineland, Ontario

In response to the refugee crisis following the end of the Vietnam War, Bill played a key role in negotiating Canada’s first master agreement for the private sponsorship of refugees in 1979. MCC Canada was the first church-based organization to sign a private sponsorship agreement with the Canadian government. The agreement opened the door for hundreds of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in Canada to sponsor and help resettle thousands of refugees across the country. 

“With this agreement, Bill found a practical way for Canadians to do something they really wanted to do, which was to support those who need refuge and to live out their Christian calling to welcome the stranger,” says Rick Cober Bauman, MCC Canada executive director.

“This sponsorship agreement was a huge milestone in MCC Canada’s history because it paved the way for faith communities to sponsor and support refugees over the last 45 years. Bill made it happen, along with many other peacebuilding initiatives and important advocacy efforts that have had a lasting impact on Canadian society.” 

Shortly after the agreement was signed, many faith communities and dioceses across Canada signed similar agreements.

When he was honoured by the Senate of Canada in 2019 for his role in crafting the sponsorship agreement, Senator Peter Harder described Bill as a nation builder: “You may not have realized it at the time, but you were pivotal in making Canada the inclusive and compassionate country it has become. Few are those who can call themselves nation-builders. You, Bill, are one who can.” 

In 1979, Bill also authored a report for the U.S. Congress on undocumented Mennonite settlers in Texas and Oklahoma. The report led Congress to pass a special bill granting those individuals permanent resident status. 

In his advocacy work on Parliament Hill, Bill presented numerous letters and submissions to parliamentary committees and senior government officials on foreign policy, international development, the Canadian constitution, religious freedoms, defence policy and much more. One of his most significant letters was part of an ecumenical effort urging the government not to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Canada’s then prime minister Jean Chrétien would later say these letters had a significant influence on the government’s decision. 

“Bill played a pivotal role in establishing MCC Canada’s reputation on Parliament Hill as an organization with a moral, credible voice, backed by our track record of global work,” says Anna Vogt, MCC Canada director of advocacy and public policy. 

“Working behind the scenes, across party lines and through carefully penned letters and countless conversations, Bill set the stage for our current engagement and work with the government. He established the MCC approach, one that is relational, practical and also deeply grounded in our Anabaptist values of peace, justice and human dignity.” 

Bill has written about his years with MCC in his recently published book Advocating for Peace: Stories from the Ottawa Office of Mennonite Central Committee, 1975-2008. 

Bill remains active in the Ottawa Mennonite Church and the wider Mennonite community. As a volunteer, he is involved in taking newcomer kids to soccer and summer camp activities.


Leslie Ann Boctor is Interim Marketing and Communications manager for MCC Canada.

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