Statement made on 15 April 2010 by Senator Maria Chaput
Hon. Maria Chaput:
Honourable senators, it is a great honour to speak today to pay tribute to one of the greatest parliamentarians in Canadian history.
The late Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier was an exceptional man. He enthusiastically represented the interests of francophones in Canada, and he fought for the equality of our two official languages until the day he died.
In 1977, the Honourable Jean-Robert Gauthier himself said:
The minimum objective in all the provinces should be that every person have the right to live in their first language, that every parent have the right to send their child to school in the first language of their choice . . . that every person have the right to communicate with the government and public officials in the official language of their choice, and have the right to appear before the courts in either of the two official languages.
Today, we are getting a little closer to that "minimum objective" thanks to the tenacity of Jean-Robert Gauthier.
In his roles as school board trustee, member of Parliament and senator, he never hesitated to remind Canadians and their successive governments of the importance of official language communities within the Canadian federation.
It was Jean-Robert Gauthier who fought tirelessly to have French-only schools in the National Capital Region, and who won a tremendous victory.
It was Jean-Robert Gauthier who stood up to Mr. Trudeau in 1982, voting against the repatriation of the Constitution. He wanted the rights of the Franco-Ontarian community to be recognized in the Constitution and refused to give that up. He voted with his conscience.
In 2005, a bill that the honourable senator introduced was passed by Parliament. These amendments to the Official Languages Act made the federal government's commitment to official language minorities binding. He gave some teeth to the legislation, and in doing so, he buttressed the protection of official languages.
All francophone Canadians recognize the scope of his efforts, his extraordinary dedication to public life and all the benefits they derive from his hard work.
I would like to quote the words of Bernard Grandmaître, a former minister in the Government of Ontario, who said:
There are few people of the same calibre as Jean-Robert Gauthier. He already serves as an example and will continue to do so. I hope others will carry on his legacy and pick up his torch.
To Monique Gauthier and the entire family, I would like to express my most sincere condolences and my utmost gratitude for having shared him with us.