Gay rights and anti-censorship activist Jim Deva passed away suddenly Sunday afternoon after reportedly falling from a ladder while doing housework in his backyard. Deva, who was co-owner of Little Sister's Book & Art Emporium, was 65 years old.
"We are beyond saddened to report the unexpected loss today of the legendary and beloved co-admiral to our ship. In a freak accident we lost Jim Deva today,"said a message posted to Little Sister's Facebook page late Sunday night. "Our condolences to his partner Bruce and the many, many people whose lives Jim has touched in the 30+ years of the store's existence."
Deva was well known in the West End community where Little Sister's opened up in 1983 on Davie Street. At the time, Little Sister's was the only gay and lesbian bookstore in Western Canada, and was the target of repeated vandalism and bombings.
Little Sister’s has repeatedly taken legal action against the federal government over issues of censorship, challenging the authority of Canada Customs to seize materials the agency deems to be "obscene". Little Sister's took its case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in 2000 that Canada Customs had unfairly targeted the store. The decade-long legal battle with the federal government was detailed in the 2002 documentary Little Sister’s VS Big Brother.
Deva, along with manager Janine Fuller, was the recipient of the Gray Campbell Distinguished Service Award at the 2014 BC Book Awards for his efforts to fight censorship.
Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson shared the news via Twitter:
So sad to hear of the passing of Jim Deva of Little Sisters bookstore. A true #LGBTQ champion. He will be missed bigtime.— Gregor Robertson (@MayorGregor) September 22, 2014
In a press release Monday morning, Mayor Robertson praised Deva for his tireless activism.
"He was an inspiration to Vancouver and all Canadians, and his irrepressible courage and tireless advocacy for equal rights and free expression played an enormous role in shaping the city that Vancouver is today. He was a champion for the LGBTTQ community, a kind heart who spoke up for the marginalized, and a leader whose uncompromising commitment to human rights echoed far beyond Vancouver to the highest courts of the land.
"His counsel will be sorely missed by all of us at City Hall, but his legacy will continue to inspire our work together to keep building a safer, prouder, more inclusive, and more equal Vancouver.”
Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert said Deva was an inspiration to many in the LGBTQ rights movement.
"It hurts my heart to learn a true leader, hero, mentor and friend to so many of us passed away today," Herbert wrote on his Facebook page Monday morning. "It is so hard to process the loss of a man so full of passion, love, and life. A man that inspired so many of us in the battle for liberty, equality, free speech, and above all love. Love you Jim, and thank you for being you, all of you. Rest in peace. You live on in so many."
Deva is survived by his partner, Bruce Smyth.