Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 12, 2004
A senator retires -- or does he?
Sen. Douglas Roche leaves the Senate but vows to lobby for peace
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Senator Douglas Roche might be retiring from political life but he has no plan to disappear from public view. "I'm not going on a holiday," he says. "I have too much work to do."
On April 1, after a distinguished career that included 13 years as a Conservative MP, five years as Canada's ambassador for disarmament and nine years as an independent senator, Roche officially said farewell to public office.
The Senate's requirement that members retire at age 75 left the Ottawa-born senator with no option but to step down.
But while Roche, who turns 75 on June 14, is forced to retire from the Senate, he has no plans to relax and go fishing like many other retirees. "I haven't got the time to go fishing, I'm too busy," he said in an April 5 interview at his Strathearn area home. "I will continue to be involved in the crucial political issues that dominate society."
In his parting address to the Senate April 1, Roche vowed to never rest "until nuclear weapons, the ultimate evil of our time, are abolished."
His plans in search of world peace include writing on peace issues, lecturing widely and lobbying.
As well, he is promoting a tour of the mayor of Hiroshima to Alberta later in April, going on a speaking tour of Canada later this year and continuing to chair the Middle Powers Initiative, a consortium of eight prominent international organizations specializing in nuclear disarmament.
"As long as God gives me health, strength and energy, I'll continue to lead an active life."
This also includes spending quality time with his wife Patricia McGoey, his children Evita, Douglas Francis, Mary Anne and Patricia and his two grandchildren, Isabelle, 7, and Nicholas, 5.
A voice for peace
From the beginning of his political career, Roche, the founding editor of the Western Catholic Reporter, stood out as a strong voice for peace and disarmament. So much so that in 1984, then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed him as Canadian ambassador for disarmament. In 1988, another prime minister, Jean Chretien - a Liberal - appointed him to the Senate, where he sat as an independent.
He had never dreamed of being a senator, so when Chretien's call came Roche was surprised. Did he accomplish much?
Maybe God would be a better judge of that, he answered.
"But whatever I accomplished was not enough considering the amount of work that needs to be done in the world."
If he did accomplish something, it is awareness about disarmament issues. "I think I helped raise the level of discussion in the Senate, took it to a higher level."
Despite what people might think, the Senate is a useful body, "a chamber of sober second thought," he said. "All the legislation in Canada has to go through the Senate before it becomes law."
Roche says his faith and the social teaching of the Church have had a great influence in his public life over the years. And the Vatican noticed it. In 1988, Pope John Paul named him Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the great. Today he is still a special advisor to the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations.
"I am very grateful that I had the opportunities that I had in my life to try advance the two great themes that have guided me in the search for peace in the world - disarmament and development," he said.
But, as he put it, the world continues to be a dangerous place, even more so than during the Cold War. "The continued existence of more than 30,000 nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and the animosity of the poor against the rich makes the world exceedingly dangerous," he said.
"I do not want to conclude my political career on a note of despair. I do recognize the great dangers in the world but I also see the signs of hope that need to be nourished in the world. When 10 million people around the world marched against the Iraq war that's a sign of the world's rejection of war."
As Roche sees it, "we are in the process of moving from a culture of war, which has dominated human life for centuries, to a culture of peace. And that's a tremendous change."
In The Human Right to Peace, the latest of his 16 books, Roche details the advances humanity has made in the building of a culture of peace - disarmament treaties, growing equality between men and women - but he said "the world doesn't hear about them because it is given daily doses of the culture of war," which has recently been re-stimulated by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Culture of war
"The reason that the culture of war must be overcome is that the war culture, now with weapons of mass destruction, will overcome humanity if we do not overcome it."
A colleague paid tribute to Roche on his retirement.
Said Senator Sharon Carstairs: "Senator Roche is a man of principle. He understands the importance of compromise, but never at the sacrifice of principle. He has my respect and admiration. He will be a great loss to this chamber."
In the interview, Roche said he enjoyed his work as a senator and always felt honoured to be able to walk on the floor of the Senate chambers.
One of his most memorable moments came in 1998 when he brought actor Michael Douglas to Ottawa to speak about peace issues. "It caught the attention of people on the issues of peace and it made it a little easier for me to be heard," Roche recalled. Douglas is a United Nations ambassador for peace.
Contributing to this story was CCN Ottawa correspondent Art Babych.