Kilgour graduated from the University of Manitoba in economics in 1962 and the University of Toronto law school in 1966. From crown attorney in northern Alberta to Canadian Cabinet minister, Kilgour ended his 27-year tenure in the House of Commons of Canada as an Independent MP. Upon retirement, he was one of the longest current serving members of parliament and one of the very few who had been elected under both the Progressive Conservative and Liberal banners.
Kilgour was originally elected as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1979. However, his first attempt at election, in the 1968 federal election in the riding of Vancouver Centre as a Progressive Conservative was unsuccessful. He ran again as a Tory in the 1979 election in Edmonton, and was a member of parliament for about 27 years. In October 1990, he, along with Pat Nowlan of Nova Scotia and Alex Kindy of Calgary, were expelled from the Tory national caucus in protest over their vote against the Goods and Services Tax. He sat as an independent for several months before joining the Liberals.
In the Liberal government, he served as the Deputy Speaker (1993–1997) and Chairman of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons, Secretary of State (Latin America and Africa) (1997–2002), and Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) (2002–2003). In the Conservative governments of Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney he served as Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council, the Minister for CIDA, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and the Minister of Transport.[dead link]
As a Secretary of State, Kilgour was continuously vocal on many human rights violations around the world. In 2001 while visiting Zimbabwe, Kilgour was vocally critical of Mugabe's farm-invasions policy and pushed for increasing international pressure. In December 2004, he was among the Ukrainian election monitor delegation of the federal run-off elections.
In April 2005, he received media attention when he speculated about quitting the Liberal Party because of his disgust with the sponsorship scandal, saying that the issue made Canada look like "a northern banana republic". On April 12, 2005, he announced that he would sit as an independent MP. He also cited Canada's lack of action on the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, as reasons for quitting. He asserted that he has no plans to move back to the Conservatives, and stated that he had no plans to run for re-election.
From 1979 to 1988, he represented the riding of Edmonton—Strathcona, but with shifting constituency lines moved to the Edmonton Southeast in 1988, and then again to Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont in 2004 which he represented until he retired from politics at the 2006 election.
Because of the unusual structure of the 38th House of Commons, in May 2005, David Kilgour's lone vote had the power to bring down or support the government. He used this influence to urge the Martin government to send peacekeepers to Darfur. He is an endorser of the Genocide Intervention Network. Then-Prime Minister Paul Martin agreed to send humanitarian support but in the end, no peacekeepers were sent.
While being a lifelong practicing Christian, Kilgour has worked on issues such as inter-faith dialog, personal freedoms, and democratic government throughout his career. In Parliament, he was active in prayer groups while at venues and publications across the country he has spoken specifically on religious themes and politics. Commonly, his topics have been on global religious and political persecutions. Currently, he serves as a fellow of the Queen's University Centre for the Study of Democracy; a director of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD), and co-chair of the Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran, and has recently hosted an Iran pro-democracy rally attended by approximately 90,000 in France in 2009.
In 2006, allegations emerged that a large number of Falun Gong practitioners had been killed to supply China's organ transplant industry. With David Matas he released the Kilgour-Matas report, which stated "the source of 41,500 transplants for the six-year period 2000 to 2005 is unexplained" and "we believe that there have been and continue today to be large-scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners". In 2009, they published an updated version of the report as a book. They traveled to about 50 countries to raise awareness of the situation.
In 2012, State Organs: Transplant Abuse in China, edited by David Matas and Dr. Torsten Trey, was published with essays from six medical professionals, Ethan Gutmann, David Matas and an essay co-written by Kilgour. Ethan Gutmann interviewed over 100 witnesses and estimated that 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs from 2000 to 2008.
Throughout his parliamentary career, Kilgour has been awarded a wide range of awards, including: the Kaputiman Award from the Council of Edmonton Filipino Associations; the Special Award from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (Alberta Provincial Council); an Outstanding Service Award from the Edmonton Sikh community; the Religious Liberty Award from the International Religious Liberty Association in Washington, D.C., Liberty Magazine and the Seventh-day Adventist Church; and as Chairman of the Parliamentary Group for Soviet Jewry, he was recognized by B'nai Brith Canada for his effort and commitment to bringing the plight of the Soviet Jewry to the attention of Canadians.[non-primary source needed]
In May 2006, he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.(Hon)) degree from Knox College, University of Toronto. Kilgour, a Presbyterian, was recognized for his commitment to human rights in Canada and abroad and particularly his challenge to the international community to respond to the plight of Darfur, as well as in Burma, and Zimbabwe.
He is the brother of Geills Turner, who is married to former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner. Kilgour and his sister are the great nephew and niece of John McCrae, the soldier and poet who wrote In Flanders Fields, and also the great nephew and niece of John Wentworth Russell, who painted the portrait of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, which hangs in the House of Commons.
He appeared in Red Reign: The Bloody Harvest of China's Prisoners (2013), Davids and Goliath (2014), and was interviewed in Free China: The Courage to Believe. He is also briefly in the 2012 documentary film "Death by China."[non-primary source needed]