When Catholic priest Lucien Larré shipped his Order of Canada back to Ottawa on Wednesday, he became the first person in the history of the award to return his medal as a gesture of protest.
"I realize that Dr. Morgentaler is a hero for a number of people, but there's some, maybe 40 per cent of Canadians, who don't agree with him and are deeply hurt that he was given the Order of Canada," Father Larré said in an interview yesterday.
Granting the Order of Canada to Dr. Morgentaler "degrades" the honour, he said.
In rejecting the honour, Father Larré - who was named to the order in 1983 for founding a home for troubled children that later collapsed amid allegations of abuse - put himself in the spotlight over his own past. It includes two criminal convictions in the 1990s, for which he served one day in jail, and a clash with the College of Psychologists of British Columbia, which, in 2006, suspended Father Larré's registration pending a disciplinary hearing.
Under current regulations, such a past might put Father Larré in line to be stripped of his Order of Canada rather than having the option of returning it. Since 1996, rules have provided for people to be dropped from the order if they have been convicted of a criminal offence or if their conduct runs afoul of public standards or is sanctioned by a professional association.
But the provisions are not retroactive, Lucie Caron of the Governor-General's office said yesterday.
The government is not aware of anyone other than Father Larré returning the honour, she said.
Father Larré, once nicknamed "the saint of Saskatchewan" for his work with troubled children in that province, yesterday spoke openly of his criminal convictions, emphasizing that he was acquitted on nine of 11 charges he faced in 1992 and later, in 1997, obtained a pardon and does not have a criminal record.
Father Larré founded the Bosco Homes in the 1970s to care for troubled children, some of whom had had run-ins with the law or had been kicked out of foster homes.
By the late 1980s, the homes had been hit by financial woes and allegations of abuse, which culminated in a trial in Regina in 1992.
Father Larré was convicted on one count of assault and of administering a noxious substance to a resident of the home. Yesterday, he said the assault charge stemmed from an incident when, losing his temper with a young woman who had become sexually involved with one of the boys at his school, Father Larré slapped her in the face. The noxious-substance charge stemmed from his attempts to teach kids about drug abuse by refusing to let them leave a room until they swallowed some pills, which were harmless vitamins, he said.
After the trial, Bosco Homes wound down and Father Larré moved to Alberta and then to B.C., where he now runs a centre that offers programs for children with learning disabilities and other problems.
In that role, he's come under scrutiny from the B.C. College of Psychologists, which suspended Father Larré's registration in 2006.
A B.C. Supreme Court ruling last year upheld Father Larré's suspension, noting a panel is of the view "that there are serious public protection concerns and an immediate risk to the public" if he continued to practise.
A disciplinary hearing is scheduled to reconvene this fall.
Only two people have been removed from the Order of Canada. Alan Eagleson was removed after being jailed for fraud in 1998 and David Ahenakew was removed in 2005 for anti-Semitic comments he made in 2002.