Andrée Ruffo: When children come first

August 18, 2015


Ms. Ruffo, during your career, you have always spoken out on behalf of disadvantaged children and children in difficulty. Where did your interest in children’s rights come from?

Children have always been very important in my family. My sister and I also attended Université Laval’s summer preschool education training program for two years, where we discovered the fragility and beauty of children, and how to keep them stimulated, for when we would become mothers.

Because it was clear to me that I would get married and have many children. But life decided otherwise. I had a son, and then I had a miscarriage at five and a half months, and it was not possible for me to have more children after that.

At that moment, I decided to go back to school. I became a lawyer and started working at the age of 35. There was no doubt in my mind that I would work only for children. I opened the first law practice dedicated to children in the province of Quebec. I worked only with children, and it was pure joy! When I went to court, I only had one child with me each day, never two. Imagine this: you are seven years old and your father beats you. You go to court. At one point, your lawyer screams, “Who is this, Sophie?” That’s the way things are nowadays. Whereas I would accompany the child, I would pick him up at home, I would take him to court and wait with him. We would go before the judge together. For me, it was a true pleasure, because I did it my way and on my own terms, and it was really important.

Given your experience, do you believe that a deaf or hard-of-hearing child is more vulnerable than a hearing child?

Yes, since he is different. Most bullied kids get bullied because they are different, whether they are the rich girl, the boy whose ears stick out, etc.

What do you think would help troubled youths?

I think that we have to stop talking about bullying and instead talk about how much we admire people with differences.

Personally, I have boundless admiration for people that are different, that mingle with people successfully, that enjoy life… Who do we think we are if we think we are the centre of the universe? For me, it is crystal clear that discrimination arises from differences.

You have had an impressive career. What do you feel has been your greatest achievement?

That I never cheated the kids; that I gave them honest and hopeful messages. This truly is my greatest pride. Today, I can say that I never made compromises in my judgments because there were no resources. I could look my clients in the eye back then, and I can still look them in the eye when I run into them today.

Today, you say that you take the time to live one day at a time. With the job you had, which was a mission in some way, how did you manage to do that?

I did not have a choice. All at the same time, my brother committed suicide and I had all these conflicts with the judiciary. I went into a massive depression. And I am not ashamed of saying it. I was treated by people that I love—extremely competent people. This depression turned out to be a good thing, because it allowed me to focus on who I was, what I wanted, ways to make myself happy, etc. Still today, I comment on news related to children.

As a matter of fact, at one point a journalist called me. I had a visitor over and could not speak with her. She begged me to call her back because they were “trying to find somebody willing to talk about children in Quebec, because nobody actually does.” Where are the judges? Where are the social workers? Where are the psychologists? I’ve been retired for eight years, and I still receive calls even when I’m away in Europe. This is nonsense.

What would you say to parents to help them do the right thing with their children?

You need to be as close to your children as possible. You must not abandon them. Here’s an example: when I was a little girl, my father was in the construction business and had a lot of employees, including some who were alcoholics or ex-prisoners. Never did I hear my parents tell us not to talk to this or that employee. They never told us because they were always there.

Nowadays, parents are not around. Children have to take care of themselves, and we expect them to know when a person or situation is dangerous. What does this say to kids? “Don’t trust that lady or man, because they are dangerous.” What message does this send kids? Parents must re-establish their position with their children by being at family dinners, for example. Meals are a special time to laugh and share about our day.

Of course, sacrifices have to be made. You cannot always be away from home or go out at night, because your kids will eventually pay the price. The same is true for parents who vacation without their kids. Why did you have kids? They are not pets. I say this not because I’m “old school” but because I have values.

We must keep in mind that what we do not give our children now, they will ask for later. When they feel safe, loved, and understood, they become strong.