Sen. Josée Forest-Niesing, 56, dies following struggle with COVID-19

Sen. Josée Forest-Niesing of Sudbury, Ont., has died following a battle with COVID-19. Her office said this week that while fully vaccinated, she suffered from an autoimmune disorder affecting her lungs.

Ontario senator had autoimmune condition affecting her lungs, her office said Tuesday

Sen. Josée Forest-Niesing of Sudbury, Ont., has died following a battle with COVID-19, the Speaker of the Senate confirmed on Saturday. (Radio-Canada)

Sen. Josée Forest-Niesing, 56, has died, after being discharged from hospital this week following treatment for COVID-19.

Forest-Niesing, of Sudbury, Ont., was released from hospital on Nov. 14, after being admitted in October. Her office said Tuesday she had struggled for 15 years with an autoimmune disease affecting her lungs. 

The Ontario senator was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but her office said her condition made her more vulnerable to the virus.

George Furey, the Speaker of the Senate, confirmed the news in an email to senators and staff on Saturday.

"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," Furey said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lauded Forest-Niesing as "a dedicated public servant and a champion for minority language communities," while Gov. Gen. Mary Simon said the late senator was "a dear friend to many, and a loyal and cherished colleague."

Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré said the news was "heartbreaking," and that Forest-Niesing had always been "there to help people out."

"She is a very caring person, and always had a smile. She's been involved in community organizations all over northern Ontario," he said in an interview with CBC News on Saturday. Serré praised her attention and dedication to the concerns and rights of French-speaking Canadians.

Serré urged community members to get vaccinated against COVID-19. According to data from Sudbury's public health unit, just under 83 per cent of residents 12 and older were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.

Forest-Niesing is survived by her husband, Robert, and two children, Véronique and Philippe.

Forest-Niesing's office released a statement earlier in the week promoting COVID-19 vaccines.

"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 said.

A lawyer by profession, Forest-Niesing was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2018 and she sat with the Independent Senators Group.

Furey noted her participation as a community member and service on various boards, which included the Art Gallery of Sudbury, the Carrefour francophone de Sudbury and the University of Sudbury.