Canada mourns loss of first Arab Canadian Member of Parliament

pierre debaneHon. Pierre De Bané, P.C., Q.C. 1938 – 2019

The Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine – a Middle East Discussion Group laments the passing on January 9th, 2019 of long-time MEDG member Hon. Pierre De Bané. Read more.

Senator Pierre De Bané was born in 1938 in Haifa, Palestine, to educated and moderately wealthy Arab parents of Syrian and Lebanese origin. His parents were not Palestinians – their relatives were mostly in Egypt and some in Lebanon.

His father was an official at the Haifa headquarters of the Palestine Railways, a subsidiary of British Railways (since Great Britain was the mandatory power in Palestine). Pierre and several of his siblings attended a French school in Haifa operated by a Catholic order of teaching nuns. But his schooling was abruptly interrupted in 1948 because of the increasing violence as thousands of Palestinians were being expelled by Zionist forces determined to create a Jewish State. His father decided to send him to Lebanon for safety.

“Pierre fled from Haifa in 1948 by taxi to join our brother Michel in Lebanon”, remembers his older brother Joseph, who was studying in Paris at the time. “Pierre recalled vividly that the trip by taxi was terrifying because of the noise of firearms (and I think he said explosions) until the taxi reached Nakoura, the entry point to Lebanon at about 150 km from Haifa.”

Pierre and other family members immigrated to Canada the following year.

A precocious student at Collège St-Alexandre in Gatineau, he studied law and became a Professor at Laval University Law School in 1964 at the age of 26. After joining a law firm in Québec City, he pleaded cases before courts in many jurisdictions, including the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 1967, he began working for the then Minister of Justice, the Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In 1968, he was elected Member of Parliament for the riding of Matane making him the first Canadian Parliamentarian of Arab descent. He won five successive mandates and proudly represented the citizens of his riding for over 16 years. During that time, he served as Minister of the Crown in several portfolios.

In 1984, he was appointed to the Senate, a position he held for 29 years. As a Cabinet minister and as a senator, he was involved in many dossiers, but he never forgot his Arab roots. He was (along with his brother Joseph) a member of the advisory council of Maximos V Hakim, Patriarch Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and all the Middle East of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church around the world. And, although he was not a Palestinian himself, he was never shy about showing his sympathy for the injustices visited on the Palestinian people by the creation of the State of Israel.

“Pierre was always a source of advice and good guidance for many Canadian diplomats whom he met during his frequent official trips overseas, many of whom were posted to the Arab world,” notes a former Canadian ambassador to several Arab countries. In 2000, De Bané was instrumental in organizing the first ever visit of a sitting Canadian PM to Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in Israel, where he and Prime Minister Chrétien were warmly welcomed by its Arab Palestinian population.

He was for many years the co-chair (along with Libby Davies of the NDP) of the Canada Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group.

He was also a founding member of the Advisory Council of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine.

The family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation. Details regarding the memorial service will be provided at a later date.

my small sig

Peter Larson

Chair,

Ottawa Forum on Israel-Palestine/

A Middle East Discussion Group

10 comments

  1. Thank you to Peter and Joseph for sharing this sad news and the inspiring details of Pierre’s life. I first met Pierre about 10 years ago, at the end of a long day of meeting with MPs to try to raise awareness of the plight of the people of Gaza. None of them showed any real concern. But when we met with Pierre, he warmly welcomed us. He not only “got it”, but he offered to set up more meetings with other MPs and to lend whatever support he could to our efforts. He always was generous, wise, and deeply ethical—a real inspiration. I will miss him.

    1. Yesterday I received this information from Hashmat in my Spam e mail. You can see how the media is treating the lose of one of our community leader.. He was advocate for the Palestinian issue. My sincere condolences to his family and his brother Joseph.

  2. Sorry to hear the sad news about Senator Pierre De Bane’s passing. What a brilliant contributor to Canada in the political arena from PM PE Trudeau to PM Justin Trudeau. And what an outstanding and reasoned supporter of Palestinian rights and Canada’s longstanding policy of a 2 state solution of Israel and Palestine. Despite participation in all of Ottawa’s Middle East discussion groups, not completely sure what he believed in recent years when such a 2 state solution seemed to be slipping away with Harper attitudes, but have impression that despite setbacks, he remained committed to a peaceful conclusion of the central ME Israel Palestine conflict.

  3. Thank you, Peter, for this eulogy of my late friend Pierre De Bané. My condolences to Pierre’s family and to his brother my dear friend Joseph. Pierre devoted his life to academic excellence in law and then public services to his beloved Quebec then as parliamentarian, minister and longterm senator and his love and dedication to Canada and Canadians. For nearly a half century, Pierre distinguished himself with rare intelligence, selfless dedication to services, rare honesty and integrity in politics. It was an honor and privilege for me to have joined Pierre and Joseph in defending the rights of Palestinians for life and dignity without hate or malice.

    Fred L Farha

  4. So sorry to be reading this news of Pierre’s death, always the most courteous of men, a man who listened closely, and welcomed you to his table. I promise to lift my glass in his memory.

  5. Peter, thank you for this tribute. Indeed it is a very sad statement about Canada that this appears to be the only tribute to acknowledge the passing of Pierre De Bane. How can it be that a man who devoted 45 years to Parliament in many capacities and roles in both the House and Senate has not been acknowledged in any media in the country except by paid obituary notice? Even the Ottawa Citizen carries no tribute. Might it be because of his country of birth? Can Canada’s media and political establishment be so small minded or so terrified? If I missed a proper eulogy in a journal, please update this entry.

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