Thursday, July 03, 2008

Bliss: Morgentaler’s OC file was reopened several times

Whatever you think of abortion, this is yet another episode of "The Judiciary Knows Best"

What do I always tell you, kids? The most important parts of the newspaper are (1) the corrections, and (2) letters to the editor. Here’s historian Michael Blissletter to the Post today on Morgentaler’s OC:

As a Member of the Order of Canada, I am deeply saddened by the way that our honours system is apparently being debased and cheapened by appointments such as the Henry Morgentaler one. Those of us who occasionally nominate worthy people for consideration for the Order have been told repeatedly that if they have been considered and rejected on an earlier occasion, the files are not normally reopened. I cannot understand why the Morgentaler file was apparently reopened on several occasions.

If the Order of Canada’s advisory committee, meeting behind closed doors, continues to make divisive, apparently political recommendations, it will undermine the integrity of the Order and further discourage those of us who tried to help make the system work. I am particularly distressed that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is involved in a process the trustworthiness of which many of us now question.

Michael Bliss, Member of the Order of Canada, University Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, Toronto.

This confirms what Order of Canada scholar Christopher McCreery hints at in this op-ed in the Globe:

Dr. Morgentaler has been nominated to receive the Order of Canada numerous times over the past 25 years, before supporters organized a nomination campaign earlier this year. But members of previous Advisory Councils – the committee of 11 people, chaired by the Chief Justice of Canada, advising governors-general on appointments – have steered clear of pushing his nomination forward because it was viewed as highly divisive and potentially damaging to the prestige associated with membership.
--"Does the Order of Canada stand for unity or recognition?," Christopher McCreery, Globe and Mail, July 2

Continuing with the fallout, a B.C. priest has returned his OC, and prominent Bay Street figure Thomas Caldwell (pictured) has reportedly removed his OC lapel pin:

A Catholic priest in British Columbia is returning his Order of Canada after Dr. Henry Morgentaler was named a member, calling the controversial abortion doctor’s induction into the Order “a terrible mistake.”

Father Lucien Larre, who was inducted into the nation’s highest order in 1983 for his work with troubled youth, said in a news release yesterday that he felt “compelled in conscience to return my Order of Canada.”

The priest, based in Coquitlam, B. C., said he did not want to show disrespect to the Governor-General or to condemn Dr. Morgentaler, but added, “I believe in my heart that he is horribly wrong and the advisory committee made a terrible mistake.”
--”B.C. priest gives back his Order over Morgentaler,” National Post, July 3

As the media have reported, Larre was pardoned for prior convictions of assault and offering a noxious substance:

He said the assault charge stemmed from an incident in 1974, when he slapped a 19-year-old woman trying to have an affair with a 14-year-old boy under his care. The other change came from an incident when he and a nurse told three teenagers to consume various unidentified vitamins, sugar pills and placebos in an effort to teach them about drugs.
--"Priest critical of Morgentaler has controversial past,"

At my age, and with my middling skills, I have not been graced with the time or talent to have attained such a prestigious award. But if I had, and if the same folks who honoured me then chose to celebrate a man for snuffing out little lives, I like to think I would waste no time in telling them where to stick their snowflake. I was proud that my father removed his own hard-earned Order of Canada immediately upon hearing of Morgentaler’s accolade.
--”Every child a gift from God,” Theo Caldwell, National Post, July 3
Given that there are more than 5,000 OC members, we probably haven’t heard the last of these. McCreery makes the same prediction.

My own views on abortion are conflicted, and I’ve never blogged about them. My initial reaction was that Morgentaler’s OC is consistent with what the Order of Canada has become, and I was surprised he had not been recognized earlier.

Though Bliss’ comments above might fuel a paranoiac view that this was deliberately timed to occur during Stephen Harper’s tenure, it is more likely that Justice McLachlin cracked the whip due to Morgentaler's age and health:

The sources said Chief Justice McLachlin drove the nomination, which was opposed by the two government members on the nine-member committee, Privy Council Clerk Kevin Lynch and deputy heritage minister Judith LaRocque.

Dr. Morgentaler has been nominated for appointment to the order several times before, but was rejected.

But at 85, and having recently suffered a severe stroke, there are concerns about his health. The honours are not made posthumously.
--"Panel divided on crusader's nomination, vote suggests," Globe and Mail, July 3

Neverthless, I agree with the prime minister’s implication yesterday that this is a divisive decision. In that vein, McCreery poses this question:

Membership in the Order of Canada was never intended to be a source of controversy or discord. So we need to seriously consider the following question: At what point are we willing to sacrifice the unity of our national order so that recognition can be accorded to a single individual?

But McCreery's question is now moot. As on so many other occasions since Papa Trudeau granted us our court-proscribed rights in 1982, a judge has taken it upon herself to make our decision for us.

The Great Pumpkin has also posted on the OC.

So has Dr. Roy.

And Halls of Macadamia.

And Joanne (recommended).


Hannibal Lectern said...

"The honours are not made posthumously."

I wonder how many potential OC's we'll never meet courtesy of Dr. Morgentaler's personal contribution to keeping the True North Strong and Free of the unwanted?

Hannibal Lectern said...

"Louis M Hellman, Mitsunao Kobayashi, Ross Brown, George Leopold, Roy Filly, Roger Sanders, Arthur Fleischer, Kenneth Taylor, Fred Winsberg, John Hobbins and William Cochrane were among those who produced a substantial amount of work from the early 1970s on the application of ultrasound relating to Obstetrics and Gynecology and had contributed much to moving the modality forward. Winsberg had a particular interest in real-time scanners and he was the first to use the German Vidoson® real-time scanner (see part 2) in North America (at the McGill University in Montreal, Canada) in 1970."

Do you think, perhaps, there may be an Order of Canada winner amongst the folks who helped push Ultrasound in OBGYN forward?

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Thanks for the link.

I think the fact that Margaret Somerville has never received the OC is very telling about who's in control here.

Anonymous said...

To the best of my knowledge, no major publication has yet published a complete list of the advisory council that voted on this. I have seen a list of the 6 ex-officio members -- but aren't there 6 other members appointed by the GG for "regional balance"?

Who are they? Just curious as to who else is 'representing' Canadians on the panel...

Joan Tintor said...

From today's Globe:

Members are selected by the independent advisory council for the Order of Canada, chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (currently Beverley McLachlin). The committee meets twice a year to consider nominations. The committee forwards its recommendations to the Governor-General, who could veto a nomination, although experts agree that such a move would be highly unusual.

Other members are the Clerk of the Privy Council (currently Kevin Lynch), the deputy minister of the Department of Canadian Heritage (Judith LaRocque), the chairperson of the Canada Council for the Arts (Michel Brault, acting chair), the president of the Royal Society of Canada (Yvan Guindon), the chairperson of the board of directors of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (Tom Traves), up to five other members who are appointed to three-year terms, which can be renewed for another two years. These people must themselves be members of the Order of Canada and are appointed by the Governor-General on the council's recommendation. They are often appointed for regional, gender and professional balance, as the ex-officio members tend to be from Ottawa and government-bureaucracy jobs.

As of April, they were Patricia Baird, University of British Columbia professor emeritus in genetics, who headed the 1993 Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies; Daurene Lewis, the first female black mayor in North America (Annapolis, N.S.), now a member of the board of directors of Canada Post; J. E. (Ted) Newall, former chairman, president and CEO of DuPont Canada, former CEO of Nova Corp., former chairman of the board of Canadian Pacific Railway; Jacques Ménard, chairman of BMO Nesbitt Burns (was a council member in April when Henry Morgentaler was recommended, but has since left).

Linda said...

Thanks for the link, Joan. A good resource for exploring the abortion issue is Feminists for Life - they have excellent woman-centered resources.