Senator Romeo Dallaire says he is resigning from the Senate, a little more than seven years before he reaches the upper chamber’s mandatory retirement age.

“I submitted my resignation yesterday to the Governor General with a torn heart because I have served here nine years in the Senate and the work here was meeting the challenges I hoped,” Dallaire said at a news conference on Wednesday. “However, I am now far, far engaged in international work and on humanitarian work, particularly on child soldiers, based out of Dalhousie University.”

Dallaire, 68, said he now wants to focus on genocide prevention, investigations into crimes against humanity, conflict resolution, and research on post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition, Dallaire continues to do work with his own Quebec-based foundation that helps underprivileged children. He will also be conducting research on PTSD at the University of Southern California.

“That’s why at this time, the pressures from outside, the duties that I owe to the many organizations -- some of which I created myself -- have come to the point where I cannot meet the challenges of the Senate responsibly,” he said.

His last day as a senator will be June 17.

Dallaire, a former Canadian general, came to prominence after leading the ill-fated UN mission during the Rwanda genocide in 1994, where he bore witness to horrific violence that left him with PTSD.

His repeated warnings to the UN and to Canada failed to stop the killings, and an estimated 800,000 people were killed in a 100-day period during the mass slaughter. Upon returning to Canada, Dallaire spoke publicly about his suicide attempts and struggles with PTSD.

He also gave numerous speeches to educate the public on issues including genocide prevention and PTSD.

Earlier this year, Dallaire was in a minor accident after falling asleep at the wheel of his car on Parliament Hill. At the time, he indicated that he was troubled by the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, as well as a series of suicides among Canadian Forces members.

But Dallaire said his struggle with PTSD had no impact on his decision to resign. “The way I’m looking at it, I’m going to probably be travelling more and be more engaged internationally than I am right now.”

Senate scandal

Dallaire said his resignation had nothing to do with recent Senate scandals, but told Power Play that he was “bothered” by the way they were handled.

“I think what bothered me was the handling, which I didn’t consider fair in process, and I in fact defended Pamela Wallin in that realm because I couldn’t understand where you could have a charge sheet of charging someone with something and also have the sentence on the same sheet and you vote on that,” Dallaire said.

He added the scandals are part of a “transitional period” in the upper chamber, and that there should be some “sober thinking” into its internal workings before senator vacancies are filled.

“I hope that (Harper) will bring the Conservative side of the Senate to want to look at significant internal reforms amongst themselves and in so doing, let that settle before starting to bring in more troops,” Dallaire said.

But he said the Senate remains crucial as a parliamentary balance to the House of Commons. “There is no doubt in my military mind that this country needs that second chamber,” Dallaire told reporters.

Dallaire was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002, and named to the Senate in 2005 by then-prime minister Paul Martin.

Reaction on the Hill

Parliamentarians reacted to news of Dallaire’s departure with surprise and well wishes. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Dallaire embodies Canadian values.

“It’s a bit of a shame because I used to be able to point to him personally as an example of the fact that senators do extraordinary work, but I know that the work that he’ll continue to do in the coming years will continue to showcase Canadian values around the world in a very positive way,” Trudeau told reporters.

Independent Senator James Cowan said it was a “sad day” for the Senate and Canada.

“Romeo Dallaire is one of the most remarkable Canadians that I’ve ever met,” Cowan said. “I came to the Senate the same day he did and I’d heard of him a lot before, but I’ve grown to know him well over the last nine years, and to admire him more than I did then.”

Justice Minister Peter MacKay called Dallaire’s public service “unparalleled.”

“He has been a truly great Canadian on a number of fronts, and I have a great deal of admiration for him. I think he'll be missed in the halls of Parliament,” MacKay said.