Born Joseph Philippe Pierre Ives Elliott Trudeau, on October 18, 1919, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The son of a wealthy French-Canadian businessman Charles-Émile Trudeau, and his wife, Grace, who was of Scottish and French decent, Trudeau spoke mostly French at home, although he learned English at a very young age as well. He earned his bachelor's degree at the elite College Jean de Brébeuf in 1940, then went on to study law at the University of Montreal and political science and economics at Harvard University, École des Sciences Politiques in Paris, and the London School of Economics. .
After completing his studies and enjoying an extended trip around the world in the late 1940s, Trudeau returned to his native country to find the authoritarian regime of his childhood "Quebec was then led by Maurice Duplessis and the ecclesiastical establishment "still in power, much to his disappointment. Determined to bring about democratic change in Quebec society and politics, Trudeau helped found Cité Libre ("Free City"), an intellectual journal of opinion that became an articulate voice for the growing liberal movement in Quebec. In 1961, he became a law professor at the University of Montreal, and in 1965, joined the Liberal Party and won election to the House of Commons. .
A strong federalist from the beginning of his political career, Trudeau opposed any notion that the French-Canadians should gain independent status from the rest of the country, although he sympathized with many of their complaints about the federal government. His strong antiseparatist position earned him the notice of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (elected in 1963 as head of Labor), and in 1967 Pearson named Trudeau to his cabinet as minister of justice, as well as attorney general for Canada. In this position, Trudeau produced legislation that stiffened gun control, expanded social welfare, and liberalized Canadian laws regarding divorce, abortion, and homosexuality.