Sen. Josee Forest-Niesing, 56, dies after battling COVID-19 and autoimmune condition

Sen. Josée Forest-Niesing, who recently returned home after being hospitalized for a month due to COVID-19, has died.

She was 56.

"It is with immense sadness that I learned of the passing of our friend and colleague, the Honourable Josée Forest-Niesing," Senate Speaker George Furey said in a statement released Saturday.

The statement from Furey did not mention a cause of death.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also released a statement Saturday praising Forest-Niesing’s commitment to public service.

"Throughout her life, Senator Forest-Niesing passionately defended and promoted access to justice and public services in both official languages as well as in sign language, including for Indigenous communities," he said.

"On behalf of the Government of Canada, Sophie and I extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Senator Forest-Niesing, a dedicated public servant and a champion for minority language communities."

Forest-Niesing revealed recently that she had been struggling with an autoimmune condition affecting her lungs for more than 15 years, which made her particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The senator from Sudbury, Ont. had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year.

Last month, her office announced that she had been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19 — an example of a rare breakthrough case.

Earlier this week, her office stated that she had returned home following a one-month stint in hospital. A statement said she had been warned that her medical condition would reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine, but that she was convinced her fight against COVID-19 "would have been much different" had she not been vaccinated.

She also praised the care she received at Health Science North in Sudbury saying "a stay in hospital is never easy but, when it comes with empathy and a human touch, it makes all the difference."

Forest-Niesing served as a member of the Independent Senators Group.

"On behalf of the Senate of Canada, I would like to extend my condolences to all her family, friends and loved ones," Furey said.

Described as a proud Franco-Ontarian, Forest-Niesing had represented Ontario in the Senate since Oct. 11, 2018, after a career practising law in her hometown of Sudbury.

Furey also recognized Forest-Niesing for her contributions as a member and chair of numerous boards and as an "ardent and passionate defender of access to justice in both official languages."

A number of parliamentarians have since expressed their condolences. Liberal MP Marc Serré, who represents the northern Ontario riding of Nickel Belt, said he and his family are "heartbroken" to hear of the "tragic passing" of his colleague and friend.

"I have had the pleasure of knowing Senator Forest-Niesing personally and professionally. Coming from the same neighbourhood in the 90s I saw firsthand her drive and dedication to her family and her community as we advocated together to save a local school that our children attended," Serré said in a statement.

"Her ambition to help others was embedded in her DNA."

With files from The Canadian Press

It is with immense sadness that I learned of the passing of our friend and colleague, the Honourable Josée Forest-Niesing, a proud Franco-Ontarian and passionate defender of access to justice in both official languages. I wish to extend my sincerest condolences to her loved ones.

— George Furey (@GeorgeFureyNL) November 20, 2021

Deepest condolences to the Forest-Niesing family. @ForestNiesing

— Marc G. Serré (@MarcSerreMP) November 20, 2021