Warren Allmand, the longtime Liberal MP from Montreal who legislated an end to capital punishment in Canada, died Wednesday. He was 84.
The Montreal native represented Notre-Dame-de-Grâce for 32 years, during which time he served as a cabinet minister during some of the headiest moments in Canadian history.
As the federal solicitor general he dealt with the aftermath of the October crisis and later testified before the Keable commission.
But his most significant achievement in federal politics will no doubt be his tabling, in 1976, of the bill that abolished the death penalty in Canada.
Bill C-84 passed in a free vote, 131 to 124 in favour of abolition. It was one of the closest votes in Canadian parliamentary history.
"Capital punishment, simply because it is immoral and useless, must be fought and defeated if we are to become a world society in which our descendants can live in peace and justice," Allmand said in a speech to Amnesty International the following year.
Aside from his time as solicitor general, Allmand also served as minister of Indian and northern affairs and later as minister of consumer and corporate affairs. Allmand was a tireless fighter for social justice.
When he retired from federal politics in 1997, then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed him president of the Montreal-based International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, a post he took over from its founding president, Ed Broadbent and held until 2002.
"He was just a man of incredible integrity," recalled Diana Bronson, who worked with him at the centre for five years. "He was a very principled and hard-working man."
His long experience as a parliamentarian served him well.
Bronson recalled how, in 2001 at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, many social activists were boycotting the proceedings and refused to meet with government policymakers.
"We had to decide if we were going to go in or not go in," Bronson told CBC's Homerun. "Warren said, 'You know, if nobody had come to talk to us [in his parliamentary days], we wouldn't have had a Charter of Human Rights, we wouldn't have unemployment insurance, we wouldn't have Old Age Security, we wouldn't have the health care system.'"
"He was one of those parliamentarians who deeply believed in democracy, and he was just ready to fight for it all the time."
In 2005, Allmand stepped back into politics, at the municipal level this time, winning the Loyola seat in NDG's west end for Union Montréal. The veteran MP called it his "second political career."
Montreal Coun. Marvin Rotrand, who worked closely with Allmand, described him as an unwavering progressive and someone who wasn't afraid to be the dissenting voice, even in his own caucus.
"He really believed by speaking the truth — self-evident truth, he called it — that he would affect social change," said Rotrand. "He really felt that just by exposing a situation and making an appeal to the public, that things would change."
That boldness reflected Allmand's independent streak, which was not always welcome by his political superiors.
As a Liberal MP he voted against the 1982 Constitution Act, bucking at the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause. He also incurred the wrath of Jean Chrétien when, in 1995, he voted against the government's budget.
Allmand, ever the progressive, couldn't stomach the budget's wide-ranging cuts to social services. He lost his position as chair of the Commons justice committee as a result.
"He was very socially preoccupied," Chrétien told CBC on Thursday, upon learning of his death. "We did not agree on every file."
Even later, when he tried his hand at municipal politics, Allmand refused to blindly follow the party line. More than once he publicly criticized the decisions of Mayor Gerald Tremblay, who had recruited him in the first place.
"He was always true to what he believed, and I think he earned a lot of public respect that way," Rotrand said.
Allmand's wife, Rosemary, told CBC her husband had been diagnosed with a brain tumour last February and took a turn for the worse in October.
He was in palliative care at the CHUM's Notre-Dame Hospital when he died on Dec. 7.
A visitation is scheduled for Dec. 17 and Dec. 18 at Collins Clarke MacGillivray White. Allmand's funeral will be held at St. Patrick's Basilica on Dec. 19 at 10 a.m.