Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
Requiem brings foes together
Political enemies put differences aside to join family and friends in praise of Trudeau
By INGRID PERITZ
The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, October 4, 2000
MONTREAL -- They are sworn political enemies, united in their sorrow for the loss of a common friend.
Jimmy Carter, the former U.S. president, and Fidel Castro, the long-time Cuban leader, overcame their countries' bitter and protracted antagonism yesterday to pay homage together to a man they could both agree to like: Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Mr. Carter and Mr. Castro were both honorary pallbearers for Mr. Trudeau's casket and were spotted inside the cavernous Notre Dame Basilica chatting amicably. Mr. Carter was even captured on camera as he laughed at something Mr. Castro, a political pariah in the United States, said.
Outside the basilica, Mr. Carter said that he believes the vast majority of Americans want the United States to lift its sanctions against the Cuban Communist regime.
Mr. Castro, ditching his signature army fatigues for a sober grey suit, declined to give Canadians a taste of his legendary oratory power and maintained a stony silence.
A parade of high-profile mourners elicited a smattering of applause, but it was Mr. Castro who raised the biggest stir from the public, and also appeared to play a prominent role supporting the grieving Trudeau family.
"[Mr. Trudeau] was an upright and brave man who, regardless of difficult circumstances, fostered his country's relations with Cuba," Mr. Castro wrote in a statement Monday.
He gave Mr. Trudeau's sons Justin and Sacha big bear hugs outside the church before the ceremony started, and sat directly behind Margaret Trudeau during the service.
He also held a private meeting with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in a nearby hotel after the funeral.
Mr. Carter also spoke effusively of Mr. Trudeau. "He was not only a good leader for Canada but of the whole hemisphere. He was my counsellor and my adviser and my personal friend."
Mr. Carter said that when he was first elected, he didn't know any world leaders and Mr. Trudeau helped him. "[Mr. Trudeau] was the first one I invited to the White House -- he and Margaret -- and so he gave me a lot of good information about my duties as president, in a very nice way. We were long-time friends."
History and friendship linked both Mr. Castro and Mr. Carter to Mr. Trudeau, who was the first Canadian prime minister to visit Cuba, and remained a steadfast friend of the Cuban leader. His groundbreaking visit in 1976 coincided with Mr. Carter's election.
The Cuban and U.S. leaders weren't the only nemeses to overcome ideological and political differences in Mr. Trudeau's honour.
Diplomats from virtually every country in the world sat solemnly together. Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Protestants, Buddhists and agnostics filled the pews of the Roman Catholic basilica.
In addition to an impressive roster of international dignitaries, there was a parade of recent Canadian history, including four former prime ministers (only Kim Campbell was absent) and every provincial premier.
Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney expressed respect for the depth of Mr. Trudeau's beliefs, and the tenacity with which he defended them. Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, a fierce political opponent, called Mr. Trudeau an "exceptional man."
Former prime minister Joe Clark, current Progressive Conservative Party Leader, said he was "struck at the fact that, with very few exceptions, people who ferociously opposed some of his measures nonetheless recognize and respect the character of the man."
New Democratic Party Leader Alexa McDonough said Canada has emerged a better country from its days of mourning. "What Pierre Trudeau symbolized, regardless of your political stripe, is that he's someone who really believed in reaching for the stars, and he tried to mobilize a whole nation to reach for them too."
And Stockwell Day, head of the Canadian Alliance, said, "For me, the political differences fade at times like this. My heart was with the family and with the boys."
Politicians weren't the only high-profile Canadians to pay homage to Mr. Trudeau. Actress Margot Kidder attended the ceremony, and singer/poet Leonard Cohen, a fellow Montrealer, was an honorary pallbearer.
It was a deeply stirring moment for Mr. Trudeau's closest confidantes. "A part of our lives is gone," a choked-up Marc Lalonde, a former cabinet minister, said as the funeral procession left the basilica.
Jean-Louis Roux, a noted Quebec theatre figure who served as an honorary pallbearer, said the day was sad yet "exalting" at the same time. "I think we all realize his memory is here to stay."
Mr. Chrétien said of Mr. Trudeau, "He was what we wanted, all of us, to be."
While some observers expressed surprise that more current leaders did not attend the funeral of a well-known international leader such as Mr. Trudeau, protocol experts said that, on the contrary, the status of the guests attending was remarkable.
"Mr. Trudeau is no longer in power so the normal thing to do would be to send someone very senior like a cabinet minister," said Gordon Smith, director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria and a former deputy minister of foreign affairs.
He said that the fact that U.S. President Bill Clinton did not attend should not be seen as a snub to Canada.
"This is perfectly normal and standard," Mr. Smith said. "After all, if Margaret Thatcher died would Jean Chrétien attend her funeral? Most probably not."