L.L. (Barrie) deVeber, 1929-2019, MD, professor emeritus in Paediatrics and Oncology at Western University, was one of Canada’s greatest pro-life champions as well as an outstanding medical professor, physician, researcher, and philanthropist. He eminently merited induction as a Companion in the Order of Canada, yet seems never to have been considered for the distinction by the order’s advisory council. Why not?
The explanation is all too evident. Canada has become so tainted by the culture of death over the past 50 years that most of our politicians and intellectuals can no longer recognize the self-evident truth that all human beings are endowed by their Creator with an inalienable right to life.
Why did deVeber stand so resolutely by the truth? What can explain his determination to uphold the sanctity of human life even in the face of sometimes fierce opposition from many of his professional colleagues?
Part of the explanation might have to do with the rough treatment deVeber endured in the 1940s as a rare Catholic at the University of Toronto Schools (UTS), then as now, an elite secondary school for exceptionally gifted students. Some of the bigger boys at UTS were anti-Catholic francophobes. They enjoyed shoving deVeber around, but he learned to stand his ground on principle and to thwart any attempt to browbeat him into submission.
However, for deVeber, perhaps the single, most important, life-defining event occurred several years later when, as an impecunious young husband, father, and medical researcher, he found himself living alone temporarily in Winnipeg and pondering the meaning of life. Although not a regular church attender at that time, he checked himself into a Cistercian monastery for a weekend retreat of intense prayer, study, and contemplation. Three days later, he emerged as a devout Christian with a life-long determination to uphold the universal and constant teachings of the Catholic Church.
Consequently, in 1969, deVeber was profoundly dismayed when, at the instigation of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, a fellow Catholic, the Parliament of Canada legalized abortion. Despite working long hours as a pediatrician and medical professor at Western, deVeber did not just lament this tragedy: He found the time to take action by, among other initiatives, helping to create Alliance for Life. In 1975, as the founding president of that organization, he presented Trudeau with a petition signed by more than one million Canadians who urged the government to restore legal protection for the life of babies in the womb.
Trudeau, alas, paid no heed. And neither has any subsequent prime minister of Canada, including Trudeau’s son, Justin, who also styles himself a Catholic yet is so implacably committed to unrestricted abortion on demand that he has banned all pro-lifers from even running for Parliament as a Liberal.
As director of paediatric oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario, deVeber daily witnessed the enormous stress endured by families who had children with cancer, especially when other siblings felt neglected. So, again, deVeber took action, this time by joining with his graduate student John Maher in 1984 to co-found Camp Trillium, an entirely private charity that offers a free, safe, and relaxing holiday to families with a child who has cancer. Currently, Camp Trillium serves close to 3,000 campers per year.
DeVeber also co-founded the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the Sunshine Foundation of Canada for severely sick and handicapped children, and the DeVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research.
DeVeber was blessed with a faithful wife, Iola, and six children. After the tragic death of one of their children, the strain of grief for Barrie and Iola was almost unbearable, but they kept their marriage intact and, in the end, nothing but death could separate them after more than 60 years together.
Barrie deVeber was a devoted husband and father, a dedicated physician and an immensely charming raconteur who was much beloved by his family, patients, nurses, colleagues and almost everyone, it seems, who got to know him personally. In an affecting public tribute, the mother of one of his former patients described how deVeber had successfully treated her daughter for leukemia almost 30 years earlier: “You took great care of our Sara,” the mother wrote: “You took time to answer all our questions and knew how to put us at ease … She is here with us and is doing well. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts: You will never be forgotten.”
Of course, deVeber also had his critics. Although often vilified and abused by advocates of euthanasia and abortion on demand, he never responded in kind, always wished nothing but the best for everyone and, when the occasion arose, was invariably eager to forgive his antagonists.
In 2015, deVeber published in The Globe and Mail a remarkable memorial tribute to John Evans, former president of the University of Toronto. Having recalled how Evans had been one of his tormentors at UTS in the 1940s, deVeber observed: “You can imagine my delight and surprise when I turned on the television years later to see John as the president of the University of Toronto speaking fluent French and awarding a doctor of laws to Governor-General Georges Vanier, a devout Catholic.
“Another surprise that showed a particularly tender side of John Evans’s character was when I received a phone call from him apologizing for the treatment I had received in high school. I thanked him deeply for this.”
DeVeber concluded: “I wish to convey my respects sincerely and with sadness for the passing of this awesome man.”
Now that Barrie deVeber has also gone to his reward, thousands of his grateful admirers across Canada will surely likewise wish to convey their “respects sincerely and with sadness for the passing of this awesome man.”