3 min

Proud Lives: Nicole LaViolette

Remembering the writer, activist and pillar of a community

University of Ottawa law professor Nicole LaViolette, a prolific writer, activist and well-regarded legal mind who won praise for her efforts advocating for persecuted sexual minority refugees, has died after a lengthy battle with cancer.

She was 52.

LaViolette passed away on May 22 in an area hospital surrounded by family and friends. She outlived the life expectancy estimate given by her oncologist by three years, says Lisa Hébert, her partner of 24 years.

An avid cyclist — who even co-wrote a book about cycling and the law — LaViolette remained active on both physical and professional fronts following the cancer diagnosis, continuing to teach, write and speak at conferences, as well as skate, swim and snowshoe, Hébert says.

LaViolette also continued to help in providing professional development training and expert advice on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans refugees to the United Nation’s refugee agency and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

Nicole adored her work, and treasured life. Although Nicole did not want to quit any of these things, toward the end she understood the disease had caught up with her and she was ready,” Hébert says to Daily Xtra via email.

The couple were both intimately involved in the Capital Rainbow Refuge (CRR), an activist legal group founded by LaViolette that works to support sexual minorities seeking to flee persecution in their home countries and relocate to Canada.

The CRR, in partnership with the Canadian Unitarian Council, has successfully sponsored at least two overseas couples for admittance into Canada as part of a support program for LGBT refugees.

A gay couple from the Middle East were the most recent to relocate under the program, arriving in the country earlier this year.

The CRR was spawned after the Globe and Mail published an op-ed piece in 2010 written by LaViolette, calling for members of the country’s queer community to step up and help support LGBT refugees the world over.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, dean of the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law, common-law section, describes LaViolette as a “visionary” who worked to “transform the way in which refugee law treated LGBT couples.”

“She really was a tremendous scholar and a tremendous colleague,” Des Rosiers says.

LaViolette received several prominent awards throughout the course of her career, recognizing her professional and academic contributions to the human rights file, the LGBT community and the broader Canadian legal community.

She received the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Hero Award from the Canadian Bar Association earlier this year, while she was awarded the Ordre du Mérite de l’Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Ontario in 2014.

The Lambda Foundation, a nonprofit group that grants scholarships to Canadian university students conducting research pertaining to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex peoples, even renamed its award at the University of Ottawa the Nicole LaViolette Friends of Lambda Prize.

“Nicole was a wonderful role model for university students who want to do research projects on LGBTI issues, especially in the area of human rights,” says Lambda president Barbara Freeman. “She was so accomplished as a law professor but she was also a committed activist, especially for the rights of LGBTI refugees.”

Mark L Berlin, a friend and former colleague of LaViolette’s who now teaches law at McGill University, calls her passing “an extreme tragedy,” saying she was ”an extraordinarily brilliant, talented, energetic, compassionate and caring individual” who not only fought for human rights across the globe but also tried to “instill those values in her students and all those around her.”

Prior to her passing, LaViolette established a fund to assist immigrant and refugee students who enroll in the French common law program at the University of Ottawa. Those who wish to may make a donation in her name to the “Fonds Nicole LaViolette”, in care of the Dean’s office, faculty of law, University of Ottawa. Up to June 30, donations will be matched by the University.

A memorial celebration for her life will be held June 15, 2015 at 7 pm in Tabaret Hall at the University of Ottawa.