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NDP Leader Jack Layton Dies of Cancer at 61

Canada grieves as New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton, champion of aboriginal rights and beloved by many, dies of cancer at age 61.
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Less than a month after stepping down “temporarily” to confront a second bout of cancer, New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton has died of his illness, his wife and children said in a statement on Monday.

“We deeply regret to inform you that The Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 am today, Monday August 22,” the family said simply. “He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones. Details of Mr. Layton’s funeral arrangements will be forthcoming.”

Aboriginals were mourning the death of a politician who had championed their rights.

“He always took the time to meet with us to hear our concerns. He was honest, approachable and cared about people,” said Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee in a statement from the Union of Ontario Indians. “He epitomized someone we all like to see in a person and he transcended issues from politics to the average citizen. It is a sad day for everyone.”

When Layton announced on June 25 he was leaving office for a time to deal with a second cancer—he had beat prostate cancer last year—aboriginal MP Romeo Saganash of the NDP expressed confidence in Layton's determination.

“I was sad, but I also saw strength and determination,” Saganash told the Nunatsiaq News at the time. The MP credits Layton with encouraging him to run in May’s federal election, in which he beat incumbent Bloc Québécois MP Yvon Lévesque.

Layton co-founded the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC), a worldwide effort to get men to work to end violence against women. The Toronto-based organization expressed shock and sadness at Layton's passing. Executive Director Todd Minerson described in a tribute how Layton had helped start the initiative back in 1991 out of his son Mike's bedroom.

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"He felt men had to have both a role and responsibility in working to end violence against women, that we needed to step up our efforts in promoting gender equality, and be accountable to challenging the most harmful aspects of masculinity," Minerson said in a statement.

"From those humble beginnings, WRC is now the world’s largest effort of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls," Minerson said. "From Mike’s bedroom to over 60 countries around the world, men have taken up the dream of ending gender based violence. Governments around the world, NGOs and the U.N. have all recognized the importance of this effort."

He added, "This is a truly remarkable accomplishment, one that would not have happened without Jack. As one small piece of his legacy, it will continue to have a tremendous impact."

Colleagues and political opponents alike expressed sorrow at the political veteran's passing.

“As leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, Mr. Layton was held in great esteem by Canadians for his passionate dedication to the public good,” Governor General David Johnston said in a statement. “Throughout his career as a community leader and politician, he constantly strived to bring people together in the common cause of building a better Canada, and he did so with great energy and commitment. His fundamental decency and his love of our country serve as examples to us all, and he will be greatly missed.”

Flags were lowered to half-mast on Parliament Hill as well as at Toronto City Hall and federal buildings in Toronto, the place that Layton served 18 years as a councilor, the Toronto Star reported.

"When I last spoke with Jack following his announcement in July, I wished him well and he told me he'd be seeing me in the House of Commons in the Fall," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a statement. "This, sadly, will no longer come to pass. On behalf of all Canadians, I salute Jack’s contribution to public life, a contribution that will be sorely missed. I know one thing: Jack gave his fight against cancer everything he had. Indeed, Jack never backed down from any fight."