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PEOPLE
‘A public trust’: Senator Andreychuk reflects on her 26 years in the Senate
August 14, 2019

When Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk was called to the Senate in 1993, she had already dedicated her life to public service long before joining the Red Chamber. Appointed as a judge in Saskatchewan in 1976, she was instrumental in establishing the first family court in Regina and went on to serve as associate deputy minister of social services in Saskatchewan. She also served as Canada’s High Commissioner to Kenya and Uganda, and as ambassador to Somalia, the Comoros and Portugal. Concurrently, she served as Canada's representative to the UN Human Rights Commission and the UN Environment Program, Habitat.

During her 26 years in the Senate, she was instrumental in creating the Senate Committee on Human Rights and chaired various committees, including the Senate Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators and the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. She chairs the Ukraine-NATO Inter-Parliamentary Council and co-founded the Canada Africa Parliamentary Association. Before her retirement on August 14, 2019, SenCAplus asked her to reflect on her time in the Upper Chamber.

 

You were the first woman from Saskatchewan to be appointed to the Senate in 1993. What was that moment like for you?

I was quite shocked. A career in the Senate was not in my plans. I asked the prime minister to give me some time to think. I took about five days, which, I was told, was very unusual. I was quite surprised that he was reaching out to me, but he indicated that some people from Saskatchewan had approached him and that’s why I was asked to be a senator.

At that time, it was a question of whether I wanted to make the change to become a senator. I was surprised to learn that I was the first woman to be appointed from Saskatchewan. It was brought to my attention after my appointment by the Chief of Protocol in Saskatchewan, while he was preparing an exhibit of women in politics in Saskatchewan. I asked the Library of Parliament and others to confirm. It became something that was raised after my appointment, and I was very proud at that moment.

Senator Andreychuk responds to a witness during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Human Rights on February 28, 2018.

How has the Senate changed since your appointment in 1993?

While there is always a constant change when new senators are appointed, the public has also changed. The public’s expectation of public office holders has changed, wanting more transparency and accountability. Another change has been a better representation of women in the Senate. The Senate will continue to change in the future as our society changes and the Senate will respond to these needs. 

In my 26 years, I have learned that change is constant. While our legislative role is our prime responsibility, each senator utilizes opportunities to respond to the needs of their constituents. My opportunities have been in foreign policy, human rights and in my home province as well as the broader community in Canada.

What has remained constant is criticism of the Senate because we are an appointed body. As such, I think we have to find ways to legitimize ourselves. In my 26 years, new senators and new governments have tried varying tactics — some have even gone to the courts. While we may have been unable to change constitutionally, we have changed internally.

Why should more Canadians care about what goes on in the Upper Chamber?

We are part of the Parliamentary process, and in a democracy your Parliament should be your tool for your expression — the political will of the people. While we are not elected, we have many of the same powers as the House of Commons. Canadians do reach out to us to voice their concerns, express their opinions and ask for assistance with respect to issues that are of importance to them. I think that people should care about what goes on in the Senate because it is their house in the sense that it belongs to the people in a democracy.

All 105 seats in the Senate were recently filled with the appointment of several new senators. What advice would you give them?

My advice is to learn the rules of the Senate, the parliamentary practices and the conventions. These are not rules that were created in the last five years. They are evolving rules within a parliamentary system. If you do not like the rules, you can change them but there is a process in order to do so.

Serving in parliament is a public trust. You bring your best judgement from your experiences and your background, while being mindful that you are here to serve the public. It is very important that senators personally reflect on that responsibility.

Confidence, trust and the integrity of senators is important. That comes from my work on the Senate Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators. The public is very interested these days in accountability and the integrity of public office holders and we must continue to uphold these principles.

Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk speaks at a press conference on June 11, 2019, following the launch of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade report, Cultural Diplomacy: At the Front Stage of Canada’s Foreign Policy.

From left: Nikita Magnitsky, Bill Browder, Natalia Zharikova, MP Michael Levitt and Senator Andreychuk at a meet-and-greet on Parliament Hill on November 2, 2017, as they marked the adoption of Bill S-226. Senator Andreychuk sponsored the bill, which allows Canada to target human rights abusers in other countries through sanctions.

You were the driving force behind the Sergei Magnitsky Law, or Bill S-226, which became law in 2017. It allows Canada to freeze the assets of corrupt foreign officials. Why was that piece of legislation so important to you?

I thought it was the missing piece in our legitimacy in defending the human rights concept. I worked throughout my life on human rights within both the Canadian and international context. We wanted to start creating international human rights standards that states and individuals should adhere to. We often stood back and said we have a very good record in Canada.

We have sanctions for trade violations, we have sanctions for terrorism, but we didn’t have sanctions for gross and persistent human rights violations. What I wanted was to maintain our integrity in the human rights field by not allowing foreign, corrupt individuals who had gained the assets and property of the citizens of another country through human rights abuses, to benefit from our country. They would come to our country, use our banking system, buy property and send their children to school and, therefore, we become aiders and abetters. What I wanted was for the government to have the capacity to be able to say, ‘No, not on our soil.’ That would then complete the circle on human rights.

Senator Andreychuk is joined by senators Thanh Hai Ngo and Percy E. Downe at a press conference about the launch of a Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade report, Foreign Trade: A Tool for Economic Prosperity.

You were the chair of many Senate committees, including Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Human Rights. Is there a piece of committee work or a report that you are most proud of?

There are many reports I could highlight, but the one I am most proud of is Promises to Keep, which we worked on in the Senate Committee on Human Rights. This report examined existing international human rights machinery and evaluated Canada’s implementation of human rights legislation into Canadian law. Canada often proudly says we have the Charter of Rights, which we do. But many international instruments have human rights standards that need to be implemented once they are signed. The report’s title, Promises to Keep, refers to the public’s expectation that when Canada signs onto an international treaty or convention it will be implemented. The report suggested ways to modernize Canada’s implementation of international human rights legislation.

I chaired the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and we produced a report in 1995 about the treatment of Indigenous soldiers. It was the first in depth look at Indigenous veterans following the Second World War and the Korean War. Were they extended the same rights and opportunities after the wars as other soldiers? Are they being remembered and included in our medals and our remembrance ceremonies? I am really proud of that report.

In the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, we produced a report in 2017 called Free Trade Agreements: A Tool for Economic Prosperity. We looked at many trade agreements signed by Canada, where we found the weakness was in the implementation of these agreements. We found that the Canadian government did not move as quickly and as thoroughly to assist the business community to leverage and benefit from these new economic opportunities.

Those are the kind of reports produced by the Senate that stand the test of time.

What will you be up to in your retirement?

I don’t know. What I do know is the word retirement does not suit me or fit me. The question is: what will I do next? I think there is still some career change left in me. I have been very, very fortunate in that I have been given opportunities — some of which I created, but others that just came to me. I have been able to do wonderful things that I never thought I could do and I still trust there is some of that left in me.

Senator Andreychuk poses in her office shortly before her retirement.