On Tuesday, the Governor General's office announced that Henry Morgentaler would receive the Order of Canada. At least three major public attempts had been made to nominate the doctor, but the last one was with a sense of urgency since there is no posthumous appointment, and Dr. Morgentaler is 85 and recently suffered a severe stroke.
Even before the official announcement, rumours were circulating about his appointment, and it had anti-abortion activists and supporters wading into the Order of Canada committee's decision.
As the public debated whether Dr. Morgentaler should or shouldn't have received the honour, the government of Stephen Harper distanced itself by pointing out that the decision is made at arm's length from the government.
Why is there an Order of Canada and what does it mean? How does the committee decide who should receive an honour? What other decision has been made that has sparked controversy over the years?
We're pleased that historian Christopher McCleery will join us online today from 11 a.m. to noon ET for a live discussion - not on the specific decision to give Dr. Morgentaler the Order, but on controversy and the Order of Canada in general. Send your questions now and join us then to reader Dr. McCreery's answers below.
Christopher McCreery's PhD theses was on the invention of Canadian citizenship, the origins of multiculturalism and the basis of the modern Canadian honours system - defining the concept of "exemplary citizenship."
Dr. McCreery has written The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History and Development, the first full length academic work written about the history and development of not only the Order of Canada, but the entire Canadian honours system. A byproduct of this work was The Canadian Honours System, which is the first fully illustrated history of the modern Canadian honours system. He has served as an adviser to the British and various Canadian provincial governments on questions relating to honours.
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Christine Diemert, globeandmail.com: Thanks Dr. McCreery for joining us online today to talk about controversy and the Order of Canada.
Before we get into reader questions I'd like to ask you to give us a quick overview of the history of the order and how it is selected.
Christopher McCreery: The Order of Canada was founded in 1967 as a way to recognize outstanding lifetime achievement. Prior to 1967 Canada had at various times used the British Honours system, although following the First World War this was greatly restricted. Thus, for nearly 50 years Canada was without an honours system. It was seen fitting as a Centennial Year project to establish a national honour to recognize those who helped to built (and who continue to build) modern Canada.
The selection/nomination process was the first of its type in the world. It relies on grassroots nominations for regular citizens. Any Canadian can nominate someone for the Order of Canada, they simply fill in a nomination form, write a short essay on why the nominee is deserving of recognition and provide the names of two or three other people who would be supportive of the nomination and then the form is mailed to Rideau Hall.
At Rideau Hall the nominations are collected (they get between 600 and 800 a year) and they have several full-time staff who put together research files on each of the nominees.
Prior to their meetings they receive several large binders with biographies and information about each of the nominees. Historically their decisions have been made by consensus, not a vote. In the past if a member of the Council was opposed to a specific nomination it would not go forward.
R Miller from Halifax, Canada writes: Regardless of our personal beliefs, where did the idea come from that Dr. Morgentaler is 'the most controversial person ever appointed to the order?' Weren't Conrad Black, Alan Eagleson and Garth Drabinsky all appointed to the Order of Canada too?