Protector and Defender of French Language Rights: Gilles LeVasseur receives 2018 Law Society Medal
Gilles LeVasseur: Called to the Bar in 1994, Gilles LeVasseur, a proud Franco-Ontarian, has devoted most of his career to protecting, promoting and improving the constitutional and linguistic rights of the Francophone community of Ontario and Canada, including human rights. He has written several works in the field of language rights, including a comprehensive book on business law, which is considered in Ontario as the common law reference in French in Canada. This book is also used by all provincial and federal courts.
As a constitutional expert for five years in the federal language rights support program, he was involved in funding all new constitutional actions presented to the courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada.
Gilles LeVasseur’s contributions have influenced language rights issues in Ontario and Canada, and the way the common law is applied to Francophones and Anglophones in the judiciary. He has participated in the drafting of several bills, including the one designating the City of Ottawa as a bilingual city, a formal recognition of the linguistic duality in Canada.
Gilles LeVasseur has chaired more than 15 national and provincial organizations in the fields of law, health, business and culture providing legal and governance expertise.
What does this award mean to you?
“In To Kill a Mockingbird, lawyer Atticus Finch states: “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” This has been a quote that defined my actions in life. When I was young, I had the pleasure of reading To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel by Harper Lee that deals with serious issues of racial inequality, courage and commitment to the values of fundamental human rights.
The lawyer Atticus Finch’s motivation to defend an individual subject to racial discrimination is the example of courage. It exemplifies the values that requires compassion and the need to help those who may not have the same opportunities. Atticus became a model for me and the expression of character that can change society by making it, one case at a time, a better place to live for everyone in the respect of the law and the equality of persons.”
The lesson he’s learned from Atticus Finch and colleagues is that “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb around in his skin and walk around in it”. This exemplifies compassion and carries with it a strong sense of courage and an awareness of history to be better human beings. For Gilles, receiving the Law Society Medal is for him the recognition of how Ontarians, including Francophones, have changed and worked to be more inclusive of the various values of our society.
He says that the Law Society has been a model for integration of various rights that promotes equality and respect, and this is evident with Francophones and receiving the award is being part of a great organization.
A native of Toronto, Mr. LeVasseur, is living in Ottawa’s Alta Vista area, a community with a significant number of Francophone residents. As a Francophone himself, he recognized the importance of defending, maintaining and ensuring the quality of French language within the city.
Through his numerous professional and philanthropic endeavours, Mr. LeVasseur has collected a remarkable list of accomplishments. As a lawyer and university professor of law, management and economics, he was actively involved in files related to Canadian constitutional language rights, from the Charlottetown accord, to being a legal expert in the funding of all new constitutional linguistic cases before the courts in Canada, especially before courts of appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.
As a member of both the Ontario and Québec Bar Associations, with several degrees, he chaired and presided more than 20 national and provincial organizations and associations in health, law, business, culture and arts — including the Conseil de la coopération de l’Ontario and of the Regroupement des organismes du partrimoine franco-ontarien.
He has published 11 books, five of which directly address the situation of Francophones in Ontario and Canada, including a book on the designation of Ottawa, Capital of Canada as a bilingual city for all Canadians.
He has received more than 45 awards, including the Order of Ontario, Order of Ottawa, the Lieutenant-Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for his contributions to the preservation of Franco-Ontarian heritage. He has also received the Queen’s Jubilee medals (50th and 60th anniversaries), as well as Commandeur de l’Ordre de la Pléiade, for his contributions to the Canadian Francophonie.
As well, he was awarded the Séraphin Marion Award and l’Ordre des francophones d’Amérique from the Government of Québec for his outstanding contribution to the development of Francophones outside Québec.
Through his passion and dedication, Gilles has been instrumental for his roles in safeguarding Franco-Ontarian and Francophone heritage across Canada, with the objective of protecting minority rights.
The Law Society Medal was established in 1985 as an honour to be awarded to lawyers who have made significant contributions to the profession. This year, 10 exceptional members of the legal professions will be honoured with Law Society awards at a ceremony on May 23rd.