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Tributes - The Honourable Lucie Pépin

Hon. Serge Joyal: Honourable senators, the retirement of Senator Lucie Pépin gives us the opportunity to highlight how beneficial it is to the Senate when a senator is appointed with care and with full respect for the institution's role within our parliamentary system.

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When Senator Pépin was appointed to the Senate in 1997 — the same year Senator Sharon Carstairs became the first woman appointed as Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Senator Thelma Chalifoux, a Metis, became the first Aboriginal woman senator — there were 24 women senators. Today, there are 38.

But the number of women in the Senate has remained virtually unchanged since 2006. There is a tendency for that number to go down and back up again, and Senator Pépin will not be happy about this, because her first battle as head of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women was aimed at having women participate fully in Canadian politics.

Senator Pépin's greatest contribution to improving the status of women in this country is the recognition of women's right to choose and have control over their own destiny, just like men.

When the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was being debated in 1980, Senator Pépin was one of the primary spokespeople for the movement calling for the inclusion of section 28 of the charter, which recognizes full equality between men and women. I quote:

Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

As a senator, Ms. Pépin helped change the face of the Senate and make it better able to address the social and human concerns of Canadians. Her background as a nurse made her the perfect person to speak up for those who were unable to do so, to remind us of the importance, if not the urgency, of their needs, as well as for the unsung heroes.

Senator Pépin looked out for military spouses, who are too often forgotten in debates on defence, which are primarily focused on arms, declarations of war and military power. Behind those on the front lines are those who remain at home alone to take care of the children, as they worry about whether their loved one will return at all or will return wounded in body or spirit.

Being very generous with her time, she often spends her weekends supporting the activities of military spouses through various resource centres. This is to her credit and to that of the Senate, where she has faithfully served these past 14 years.

With great concern for the fate of women and youth suffering from mental illness, Senator Pépin became the voice of those who, because of inadequate services, are left to fend for themselves in the street, people who are often abused and are losing their dignity.

This aspect of human need is what has always motivated Senator Pépin's commitment, in her work both inside and outside the Senate, to her social priorities.

[English]

Soft-spoken, but convincing, direct but always elegant, Senator Pépin is the kind of person whose arguments no one can ever refuse to listen to and respond.

[Translation]

Always sensitive to the plight of all minorities, she contributed to our debates here in the Senate at many critical moments. For instance, seven years ago, she made an invaluable contribution to recognizing minority rights with the passage of Bill C-250 to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code regarding hate propaganda.

In this way, Senator Pépin demonstrated that senators have a duty not just to reflect the partisan positions of their political party, but also to make a personal investment in order to lend a voice to those whom the majority tends to marginalize.

Always attentive to the work of the Senate, even when temporary health problems could have or should have kept her away from the debate, Senator Pépin was too honest and too generous to do anything but perform her duties as a parliamentarian fully and completely.

We can only hope, dear Senator Pépin, that you will find many other opportunities to contribute to our country, which can only benefit from your humanity, your generosity and the warmth of your deep convictions.