Former senator Jacques Hebert dead at 84
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, December 7, 2007 6:02PM EST
MONTREAL - Former senator Jacques Hebert, a devoted youth advocate, activist, journalist and author, has died following a long illness.
A confidant of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Hebert, 84, was best known as founder of Canada World Youth and the Katimavik youth volunteer program.
Alexandre Trudeau, chairman of the board of Canada World Youth and a close friend of Hebert's, recalled his unrelenting work ethic and his frustration that his illness would prevent him from completing important work.
"He was someone who preserved the spirit, the energy, the idealism of an 18-year-old,'' Trudeau said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Friday, a day after Hebert passed away in Montreal.
"He was someone who until the very end exhibited an idealism that is very rare. You don't always meet people who are ready to do everything for a cause without interest in money or material gain.''
Hebert founded Canada World Youth in 1971 to offer youths from different cultures a chance to live and do volunteer work.
His goal was to help young people acquire the knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to play an active role in society.
Hebert's commitment to youth inspired him in 1977 to create Katimavik, a program offering youths aged 17 to 21 a chance to do volunteer work in Canada.
In 1986, he went on a hunger strike for 21 days to protest a decision by the then Progressive Conservative government to end the Katimavik program.
The program eventually was restored in 1994.
"He had a very, very strong conviction that youth was an important asset for Canada and that we should provide a lot more tools to our youth ... providing them an opportunity to give to their country, to give to their community,'' said Jean-Guy Bigeau, executive-director of Katimavik.
Despite his deteriorating health, Hebert was in good spirits when Alexandre Trudeau visited him last weekend, and the former prime minister's son said Hebert's legendary sense of humour still had him laughing.
Hebert was remembered by friends as a great storyteller who could leave people young and old spellbound with his tales.
"It's just incredible to see him walk into a room with young people and in spite of the fact they don't know him and never met him, he would have this charisma and magnetism and they would just surround him,'' Bigeau recalled.
"He would just connect with them automatically.''
In 1983, Trudeau appointed Hebert to the Senate. He retired from political life in 1998, but continued to work for a variety of causes, including advocating for the Duplessis orphans.
"He was frustrated with dying because he had so much he left to do,'' Alexandre Trudeau said. "He couldn't accept that he wouldn't be able to continue all the battles he'd been fighting.''
Hebert was made Officer of the Order of Canada and Knight of the Ordre de la Pleiade and he was nominated for the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
Hebert also had a long career in the literary world. The globetrotting journalist founded two publishing houses and writing many books, including Two Innocents in Red China, a 1960 collaboration with Pierre Trudeau.
The former senator was outspoken on numerous civil liberties issues and fought steadfastly against Maurice Duplessis' autocratic-style of leadership in Quebec.
Hebert also worked as a journalist and wrote extensively about the case of Wilbert Coffin, a Quebec man hanged for killing three American hunters despite his insistence he was innocent. Hebert, who covered the case as a journalist, dubbed it the biggest legal miscarriage in Quebec's history.
Senator Serge Joyal says his former colleague would have wanted to wade in on the debate over the death penalty brewing once again in 2007. He would have also had strong opinions on the Bouchard-Taylor commission hearings on the reasonable accommodation of minorities in Quebec.
"For him, there was no such thing as an active period and a retirement period,'' Joyal said. "He has always been totally committed from the first days he was involved in the public debate in the '30s and the '40s.''
Born in Montreal, Hebert leaves behind five children and several grandchildren.
"He was a great federalist,'' Alexandre Trudeau said. "He saw the world and he saw the damage caused by nationalism.
"It was impossible for him to accept that heritage or ethnicity was the basis for building a country, for him the basis of building a country, of a social contract, was optimistic values for a better world.''