Ontario Senator Josée Forest-Niesing dies at 56 after battle with COVID-19

By Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Josée Forest-Niesing, a lawyer and Ontario senator, has died shortly after being hospitalized with COVID-19. She was 56.

Forest-Niesing’s office said earlier in the week that the Sudbury, Ont., senator returned home last Saturday after being admitted to hospital with the virus.

The statement noted she was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but was considered especially vulnerable due to an autoimmune condition that had affected her lungs for the last 15 years.

“She therefore obtained the two doses of the vaccine as soon as possible, being warned however that the effectiveness of the vaccine would be reduced due to her medical condition and that she would have to take extra precautions,” read the statement released Tuesday.

Despite her vigilance, she fell victim to the virus, her office said.

In the statement, Forest-Niesing thanked the medical personnel who had cared for her, and urged Canadians to get vaccinated.

“Senator Forest-Niesing would like to remind all Canadians of the importance of vaccination and remains convinced her fight would have been much different if it had not been for this protection,” read the statement released Nov. 16.

George J. Furey, the speaker of the Senate, confirmed her death in a statement on Saturday, in which he described Forest-Niesing as “an ardent and passionate defender of access to justice in both official languages.”

A lawyer by trade, Forest-Niesing is described on the Senate’s website as a proud Franco-Ontarian who had recently discovered her Métis heritage.

“In addition to practicing law for nearly 20 years at a law firm providing services in French, she has contributed to her community as a member or chair of numerous boards of directors, including the Art Gallery of Sudbury, the Carrefour francophone de Sudbury, and the University of Sudbury,” the biography read. 

She also belonged to several associations that promoted access to French-language legal services across Canada.

She had represented Ontario in the Senate since October 2018.

Several politicians, senate colleagues and members of the legal community went online Saturday to express their sadness at her death.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was thinking of her loved ones as they mourn.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, Sophie and I extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Senator Forest-Niesing, a dedicated public servant and a champion for minority language communities,” he said in a written statement.

“Witty, graceful, a passionate champion of Franco-Ontario, and of human rights and social justice, she brought intellectual rigour and compassion to every debate,” wrote Alberta Senator Paula Simons on Twitter.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly also expressed condolences to Forest-Niesing’s family on Twitter, describing her death as “a great loss for the Franco-Ontarian community and for Canada.”

Details of a memorial service were not immediately available.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2021.

By Morgan Lowrie in Montreal

The Canadian Press

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