Sen. Josée Forest-Niesing has passed away at the age of 56, just one week after being discharged from the hospital where she had been battling COVID-19.
The senator, who was fully vaccinated against the virus, had been hospitalized due to complications from COVID-19 in October. An autoimmune condition affecting her lungs had made her “particularly vulnerable to the pandemic,” her office said in a statement last week.
The development was confirmed in an email that had been sent to senators and their staff on Saturday, which Global News obtained.
“It is with immense sadness that I inform you that the Honourable Josée Forest-Niesing has passed away,” read the email.
“A proud Franco-Ontarian, Senator Forest-Niesing represented the province of Ontario in the Senate since October 11, 2018.”
Forest-Niesing also had a “long and distinguished career practicing law in her hometown of Sudbury,” the email added.
“Senator Forest-Niesing contributed to her community as a member and chair of numerous boards of directors, and she will be remembered as an ardent and passionate defender of access to justice in both official languages,” it said.
“Further details concerning a funeral or memorial service will be forwarded as soon as they are available.”
Forest-Niesing was released from the hospital on Nov. 14 to “pursue her healing” alongside “family and loved ones.”
“She envisions a somewhat different recovery period from other COVID-19 patients due to her medical history of lung problems,” a statement from her office at the time read.
The Senator had been struggling with the autoimmune condition for over 15 years, according to the statement, which led to her having a “somewhat different recovery period from other COVID-19 patients.”
In the statement, Forest-Niesing also made a point of clarifying “the facts surrounding her vaccination.”
“The Senator is considered particularly vulnerable to the pandemic due to a pre-existing condition,” it read.
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“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.”
It added that she fell victim to the virus “despite her vigilance.”
“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,” the statement read.
Tributes began pouring out online shortly after the news broke.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement, “It is with sadness that I learned today of the passing of Josée Forest-Niesing, Senator for Ontario.”
“Throughout her life, Senator Forest-Niesing passionately defended and promoted access to justice and public services in both official languages as well as in sign language, including for Indigenous communities,” he said.
“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.”
Sen. Paula Simons tweeted that the Senate lost “a remarkable colleague and Canadian, the brilliant and beautiful Josée Forest-Niesing.”
“Witty, graceful, a passionate champion of Franco-Ontario, and of human rights and social justice, she brought intellectual rigour and compassion to every debate,” Simons wrote.
“She was a gifted Senator and a wonderful human being. We were sworn in together as part of the same group of appointees, and our whole cohort was warmed by her charm, her humour and her fierce intelligence.”
Sen. George Furey said he learned of Forest-Niesing’s passing “with immense sadness.”
“A proud Franco-Ontarian and passionate defender of access to justice in both official languages. I wish to extend my sincerest condolences to her loved ones,” he wrote in a tweet.
Forest-Niesing had a demeanour “that could brighten any room” and “the intelligence to enlighten it as well,” Sen. Yuen Pau Woo tweeted.
“An immeasurable loss to her family, community, the Senate and Canada. Josée was such a brilliant and kind colleague,” added Sen. Colin Deacon.
“She was a reliably brilliant, insightful, kind & thoughtful. Please — be unrelenting in your efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”