In Memoriam: Peter Showler

Peter Showler, photo credit The Hill Times. 

PEN Canada mourns the death of Peter Showler O.C., former board member and Chair of the Writers in Peril Committee.

b. 17 February, 1944 – d. 30 October, 2023

Peter was an outstanding immigration and refugee lawyer and the author of Refugee Sandwich: Stories of Exile and Asylum, a collection of short stories that probe the moral dilemmas faced by participants in the refugee determination process. He was also the former Chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, and the Director of the Refugee Forum at the University of Ottawa.

A mentor to an emerging generation of refugee lawyers, he was admired for his dedication and his expertise. “Few people in Canada understood better than Peter how this country’s refugee system worked (and often failed to work),” Jim Creskey, co-founder of The Hill Times wrote to PEN Canada on learning of his friend’s death on Monday, October 30 in Toronto.   

As Chair of PEN Canada’s Writers in Peril Committee, Peter was unstinting in his efforts to help writers in danger, sharing his skill, knowledge, dedication and humanity with unfailing good cheer. Among his many accomplishments, he established PEN Canada as a trusted partner in the federal government’s Human Rights Defender stream and led efforts to help an Iranian blogger and her partner achieve permanent residency in Canada. He also sought help for dozens of Afghan women journalists after the fall of Kabul last year. His well-earned recognition in being awarded the Order of Canada earlier this year was a source of great pride to everyone at PEN Canada.

Like many writers, Peter struggled as a novelist. “I am revising my first novel that was started in the late ‘90’s and has evolved through four different versions with different titles, different openings and endings, and different structures including one version as linked short stories,” Peter confided to Jim Creskey. 

“It is the book that taught me how to write. It has given much joy, much insight and much frustration,” he confessed. “Three or four times, I have consigned the book to the metaphorical desk drawer, and each time it re-emerges, asking for one more chance.” Fortunately, Peter’s self-described “magnificent obsession” was eventually published and is a lasting monument to his literary ambition.

He had been grappling with metastasized cancer for some time when he contracted COVID in late October, an overwhelming complication for his weary body. He wrote a final note to close friends, including colleagues at PEN Canada. With his customary eloquence and compassion his farewell offered us all some solace in our grieving. “I am a lucky guy.” he said. “I leave with more than my share of human kindness and I am grateful.”


Remembrances can be made in the form of contributions to Daricha, an independent organization sustaining underground schools for girls in Afghanistan. For more information, Peter’s obituary was published in The Globe and Mail.