Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
The Honourable Jerahmiel S. Grafstein, Q.C.

Honourable senators, it is a privilege to be able to pay tribute today to Senator Jerry Grafstein upon his retirement from the Senate. Although we are losing an esteemed colleague, we will be keeping a close friend.

I will not speak today of the bonds that cement our friendship; there are other more appropriate venues for that. Rather, I will remind honourable senators of the principled positions that Senator Grafstein defended during his 26 years in the Senate.

The most important was the recognition of the value of human life as the fundamental principle at the heart of our rights and freedoms. He fought for such rights 10 years ago in this chamber when an extradition bill introduced by the government of the day allowed the Minister of Justice to permit the death penalty to be applied against a Canadian citizen abroad. Senator Grafstein thought there could never be two sets of principles for Canadian citizens, one for protecting them at home and another discretionary one abroad. He believes in the fundamental principle of the sanctity of life, equal everywhere and at all times.

We lost that amendment here; but a year later, the Supreme Court vindicated that principle in the case of United States v. Burns, and last year, the Federal Court reaffirmed that point in the case of Ronald Smith.

The second principle that Senator Grafstein holds as part of his commitment to action is the protection of minorities and the defence of the vulnerable in our society. By the mere fact of their greater weight, majorities tend to disregard the condition and plight of persons or groups who are less influential or powerful. At the top of those who must fight for recognition are the Aboriginal peoples. Senator Grafstein has introduced or supported amendments, motions and inquiries to support their right to self-government, their right to live in dignity and in decent health, as well as their right to speak their language.

Senator Grafstein is also concerned with the plight of youth and the rights of the child. He has supported the opportunity for a second chance for those youth caught in the web of criminal justice, especially those from a poor and violent family background. At one point, he got removed from the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for his point of view.

The senator believes in the role of government — not necessarily of more government, but of better and smarter government. As Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, Senator Grafstein launched and had a study completed to enhance the protection of consumers in the financial service sector. He opposed the mergers of banks, as ultimately the risk generated by bad investment decisions would have been borne by taxpayers.

He does not believe that equal opportunity can be left solely to the interplay of market forces. He is what I would call a "liberal democrat." He is convinced of the value of a free market, but with an eye to the strategic redistribution of wealth to those living under the accepted standard in an affluent society.

He is also a committed Canadian. He has always seen his initiatives as those of a nation builder, of an effective central government working toward binding the various regions, groups and communities of our country. His support of a portrait gallery for Canada is just such an example.

He remains attentive to the cultural richness and contribution of French Canadians throughout the country. An active participant in the debate involving our constitutional future, he is preoccupied with the way institutions of Parliament are defined in our Westminster system of government. He did just that in defending the role of the Senate as an essential house of Parliament during the Clarity Act debate.

He also kept an eye on the challenges of protecting the environment, regarding access to clean water in particular — a global preoccupation.

At the international level, his initiatives were also directed toward peace in regions where neighbouring nations have not yet been able to define the terms of peaceful cohabitation. The Middle East, the fight against anti-Semitism, the development of international institutions to better mediate the settlement of conflicts, in particular at the OSCE, have all been objects of his everlasting commitment.

Honourable senators, do you have any idea how many bills, motions, inquiries, questions, amendments, interventions and speeches Senator Grafstein has given or made during his 26 years in the Senate Chamber? It is quite a few.

Today, I thought it would be appropriate to review some the principles and values that Senator Grafstein has stood for. They are at the heart of his commitment to action and offer a stronger description of the stature of the person we are saluting today as he leaves the Senate. Thank you, Senator Grafstein.

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