Warren Allmand, Liberal MP for NDG for 32 years, dead at 84

Warren Allmand, a native Montrealer and lifelong politician, will be remembered as a defender of human rights and a fighter for social justice.

As solicitor general, Allmand tabled the bill to end capital punishment in Canada

In 2000, as head of Rights and Democracy, Warren Allmand, seen here flanked by the director of the Innocence Project, Dianne Martin, and Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Matthew Coon-Come, pleaded for clemency for long-imprisoned American aboriginal activist Leonard Peltier. (Fred Chartrand/CP)

Warren Allmand, the longtime Liberal MP from Montreal who legislated an end to capital punishment in Canada, died Wednesday, Dec. 7. 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.
Warren Allmand was first elected Liberal MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in 1965 and retired from federal politics in 1997. (Getty Images)

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. 

Rights and Democracy

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."

In 2005, Warren Allmand took up the cause of Maher Arar, the Syrian-Canadian who was held in a Syrian prison. Allmand accused the federal government of either deliberately co-operating in human rights abuses or in turning a blind eye to them. (Canadian Press)

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."

Allmand's '2nd political career'

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."

Warren Allmand was an enthusiastic hockey player, shown here playing against an RCMP team in a 1974 hockey game, called 'Cops and Cons.' (CBC Archives)

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 upon learning of his death.  The former Liberal prime minister said he considered Allmand a lifelong friend — and fondly remembered their skirmishes on the ice, playing pick-up hockey in their days as MPs. But as for politics, "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 Gérald 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.

Warren Allmand was the first Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Tibet. He hosted the first visit of the Dalai Lama to Ottawa in 1990. (Canada Tibet Committee)

Had been diagnosed with brain cancer

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.

with files from CBC's Simon Nakonechny and Shaun Malley