Hon. Serge Joyal: Honourable senators, it is a privilege to pay tribute today to Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, a comrade in the House of Commons and in the Senate for the past 30 years.
Senator Gauthier's commitment to pursuing his ideal and his vision of our country has been constant, unfailing and uncompromising.
He shares the conviction that francophones have an inalienable right to speak their language, to live and to get an education in French, and to fully participate in the life and institutions of our country.
Senator Gauthier's most significant action was to vote against the 1981 constitutional resolution recognizing section 23 of the Charter and the right to have access to French schools, but only "where the number so warrants." He has always been outraged by this provision.
Senator Gauthier never wanted to be a mere number when it came to exercising his rights. As far as he is concerned, a right is a right is a right.
He fought openly against the meanness of numbers, seeing them more as a way to count the victims of assimilation and humiliate individuals than a way to make people proud to speak their language, the language of their country, as he so aptly says.
This morning, it was reported by the media that a Nova Scotia court has just ruled that the clause "where the number so warrants" regarding the delivery of services by the RCMP in the region of Amherst, in the northwest of the province, violates the Official Languages Act and the Charter, even though francophones only make up 3 per cent of the population there.
Senator Gauthier's argument has been heard in court; let us hope it will be confirmed by the highest court in the country.
Senator Gauthier's vote on the 1981 resolution left him wounded because he has always believed so strongly in the value of charters and court protection against the indifference of governments and sometimes against the strength of prejudice. Nonetheless, he has always expressed great respect for his anglophone fellow citizens. He is courteous and diplomatic and has never displayed antagonism toward the other official language community.
His commitment to the recognition of the rights of francophones to manage their own education system achieved significant results across the country. He leaves us to continue the fight to have Ottawa recognized as a bilingual capital, because this city must be a reflection of the ideal of Canada's aspirations.
In lending his voice and the strength of his commitment to supporting the recognition of our rights, he has continued to make Canada a society that is more humanitarian and more sensitive to the plight of minorities, all minorities, especially Aboriginals. As he so rightly says: "We debate and we have rights, but when I think of the Aboriginals, so much needed to be done."
Independent, unassuming, passionate, yet profoundly human, he transformed his physical handicap into a tool for persuasion, which, I hope, will lead this Parliament to pass this very important amendment to the Official Languages Act that he piloted.
Honourable senators, on Monday I wrote to the executive director of the Canadiana Fund to say that the portrait of King Francis I, which I donated two years ago to enhance the Salon de la francophonie, should be dedicated to Senator Gauthier for his commitment to the recognition of the rights of official language minorities in the country.
King Francis I was the first to lay claim to Canada in 1534, and was also the first to pass an edict in 1539 in Villers-Cotteręts, making French the language of government and the courts.
This is a lasting tribute to a man who is fair, a man of integrity, with a desire to serve his community.