The Honourable Gérard La Forest, C.C. — Congratulations on Ninetieth Birthday

Honourable senators, earlier this month, Gérard La Forest, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, celebrated his ninetieth birthday at home in Fredericton. For several years, I’ve known of and respected this man — for his impact on our laws, our lives and our country, and for being a genuine, insightful person — characteristics I gleaned from stories told to me by his daughter, who is a member of my team here in Ottawa.

Since we’re both from New Brunswick, I have an idea of what his early years must have been like. Born in 1926 in Grand Falls, the youngest of 12 children, his era was one of economic challenge deeply felt within families and communities. With an aptitude for school and an interest in books and the world, Mr. La Forest was the odd one out among his siblings. He laughs fondly at his father’s patient acceptance that his youngest son was not meant for the exertions of farming.

Throughout his career, Mr. La Forest realized several remarkable achievements. He credits good fortune for the most significant events of his life, professional and personal alike, including his most cherished experience of all: meeting and marrying Marie Warner of Saint John.

In the 1997 case Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General), Mr. La Forest based his support for a group of appellants, who were born deaf, on the realities of being disabled in this country. This is what he wrote:

. . . disabled persons have not generally been afforded the “equal concern, respect and consideration” that s. 15(1) of the Charter demands. Instead, they have been subjected to paternalistic attitudes of pity and charity, and their entrance into the social mainstream has been conditional upon their emulation of able-bodied norms . . .

This description of social marginalization and exclusion is as illustrative today as it was 20 years ago. His words convey the perspective I endorse in my own advocacy work for people with intellectual disabilities and autism.

Today, it is a pleasure to express my best wishes to Mr. La Forest. I hear his birthday celebration was a happy, loving, lively gathering with his five daughters, their families and dear friends of all ages. Good fortune, indeed.