The Order of Canada was established in 1967, Canadas centennial year, to recognize outstanding lifetime achievements of extraordinary people in their work on behalf of their communities and their country. There are three categories of honours; Companion, Officer and Member, depending upon the degree of dedication and service of the inductee.
Having the Order of Canada is a noble gesture to honour those who make significant contributions to society. But the institution will lose all credibility if procedures are not put into place to strip members of their designations should they end up being total embarrassments to the country that has so honoured them.
In its relatively brief history, only one member has been stripped of membership in the exclusive order. alan Eagleson, a former hockey agent and executive director of the NHL Players association was invested into the Order as a Member in 1989, mainly for his work in bringing the 1972 hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union into fruition. Eagleson was stripped of his membership in February 1998, one month after he was sentenced to 18 months in jail after having been found guilty of fraud.
Eaglesons situation seems to have set the standard that once a person is invested into the Order, they cannot be stripped of the honour unless they are convicted of a criminal offence. Since Eaglesons membership was terminated seven years ago, there have been two more troubling cases. David ahenakew, a Saskatchewan native leader became a Member of the Order of Canada in april 1979. In 2002 he had gave an interview to a reporter that was taped. ahenakew was heard on the tape saying that Jews were a disgrace and Hitler was just trying to "clean up the world" when he "fried six million of the guys" during World War II. ahenakew was subsequently charged with a hate crime.
No efforts have been made to strip the Jew-hating native leader of his membership on the grounds that, unlike Eagleson, he hasnt been convicted of anything. But the situations are completely different. Eagleson was a businessman who was conducting business transactions. It could not be said that his actions were objectionable until a judge or a jury said, "guilty". But ahenakew said what he said, regardless of whether the Crown can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was willfully promoting hatred of an identifiable group. In arriving at this conclusion, the bar has been set pretty low for continuing to hold membership in the Order. It seems that spewing venom against Jews and praising Hitler for killing them is consistent with membership in the prestigious Order of Canada.
The latest Member to achieve negative notoriety is Liberal Senator Michel Biron. appointed to the Order in May, 2001, Biron has been highly critical of section 810 of the Criminal Code that allows a court to impose conditions upon criminals who have completed their sentences. Section 810 received prominent media attention recently when schoolgirl killer Karla Homolka was put on conditions that will take effect after her July 4 release. Biron referred section 810 as "totalitarian style law". There is some merit in his argument and he is certainly not the only one who disagrees with the states ability to exercise control over criminals who have completed their sentences. There is no doubt many critics of section 810 that were afraid to voice their criticisms at this particular time lest they be seen to be sympathetic towards the 35-year-old torturer/killer.
Not only did Biron criticize the ability to restrict Homolkas post-release movements but he travelled to Joliette Quebec and attended her section 810 hearing. He sat next to Homolkas counsel and exchanged smiles with the attractive blonde murderer. In doing so, Michel Biron crossed the line from being a critic of section 810 to being a Karla groupie. His conduct (not his beliefs) is and was a disgrace to all normal thinking Canadians. But unlike ahenakews comments, smiling at one of the most notorious killers in Canadian history is not a criminal offence. The 71-year-old Senator will die with his prestigious membership in the Order of Canada firmly intact.
Steps have to be taken to ensure that those who are invested into the Order of Canada and later become a total embarrassment not only to the Order but to the country can be removed.