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The Order of Canada has not been without controversy. Immediately after the Order was announced in Parliament there was a comical controversy surrounding the motto of the Order. More significant controversies have arisen as the result of people refusing to be appointed to the Order, protest resignations from the Order, removals from the Order and lastly campaigns for various Canadians to be appointed to the Order.

Chapter Twelve “Refused, Resigned and Revoked” of
The Order of Canada: Genesis of an Honours System, contains a complete overview of this topic.

Order of Canada; Companion of the Order of Canada; motto Order of Canada; desiderantes meliorem patriam

Indeed, within hours of Lester Pearson’s announcement of the Order’s establishment there was an issue. Unfortunately, that press release stated that the motto of the Order, Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam, was from Hebrews 12:16. A stenographer had copied the incorrect reference from an early draft of the Order’s constitution which referred to Hebrews 12:16, which states, ‘Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.’ 

This was rather comical in light of the Munsinger scandal, which was still fresh in the minds of Canadians, and the claims from the opposition parties that Pearson had sold Canada out with the signing of Auto Pact. Hebrews 12:16 was in effect alluding to the political woes of both the Conservatives and Liberals; the one side was accused of fornicating, the other of selling the country out! The opposition leader, John Diefenbaker, never a fan of the Order, commented ‘they can’t even quote Scripture correctly.’ Officials from the PMO quickly apologized for the error. 

Diefenbaker himself had never been keen on honours – other than those for himself. As Prime Minister Diefenbaker, like his predecessor Louis St-Laurent, blocked Vincent Massey from being made a Knight of the Garter. In the early 1960s there were various attempts to establish an Order of Canada. When Governor General Georges Vanier shared these plans with Diefenbaker, he blew up and immediately had the nascent project shut down. Diefenbaker would be quoted as calling the Order of Canada the Order of the “kooks”. He would be appointed a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in 1976 on the recommendation of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, as there was no way Diefenbaker could be appointed to the Order of Canada as he remained a Member of Parliament until his death in 1979.

Joyey Smallwood; Order of Canada; Companion of the Order of Canada

The Honourable Joey Smallwood, PC, CC, one of the first to refuse appointment as a Companion of the Order of Canadian the hopes that he would be awarded a knighthood. 

As with all organizations much can be discerned about the character of the collective membership by looking at who has refused to become a member, who has resigned membership and who has had their membership terminated. The list of Canadians whom we know have refused the Order of Canada is not terribly long. Key figures include pianist Glenn Gould, author Alice Munro, politician Robert L. Stanfield, the comedian duo Wayne & Shuster refused the Medal of Service of the Order in 1967, for the simple reason of not knowing what the Order was! Acclaimed Canadian author Morley Callaghan initially refused to be appointed to the Order, demanding to be made a Companion. Similarly former Premier of Newfoundland and self-professed last “Father of Confederation” refused to be made a Companion of the Order of Canada demanding to be knighted – more than a decade after his refusal he would accept to be made a Companion of the Order. 


Provision is included in the Constitution of the Order for any member to voluntarily resign his or her membership: The Governor General accepts the resignation and an instrument is signed and sealed, then notice of the resignation is published in the Canada Gazette. Simply mailing ones insignia to the Governor General does not constitute a resignation.

In terms of other national Orders resignations are rare, however they are not unprecedented. In 1964 when the Beatles were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) there was a flurry of resignations from the Order of the British Empire in protest.

To date there have been eight resignations from the Order, six of which were in protest of Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s appointment as a Member of the Order of Canada. One Member, Professor Camille Limoges resigned from the Order for “personal reasons.” Lastly Dr. Bernard Barwin resigned from the Order following a finding of professional misconduct – it is entirely likely that had he not resigned from the Order of his own volition, his membership would have been terminated on the advice of the Advisory Council given the severity of his professional misconduct. By strange, and unrelated coincidence, it was Barwin who lead the nomination for Dr. Henry Morgentaler to be appointed to the Order. To his credit, unlike other members of the Order who have been found guilty of criminal or civil offences or who have been found to have committed some form of professional misconduct, Barwin took the honourable route and resigned and did not have his membership terminated – as has occurred to seven of the Order’s ignominious now former members. 


To date there have been eight members of the Order of Canada who have had their membership terminated under section 25 of the Order’s Constitution. The first person to have their membership terminated was not on account of any dishonorable act or criminal conviction. Zena Sheardown, one of the heroes of the Iran Hostage Crisis, was moved from the honorary division of the Order into the general division of the Order when she became a Canadian citizen in 1986. This was a happy transformation!

The Advisory Council of the Order of Canada developed a detailed 11 stage process for terminating the membership of those members of the Order who have been found guilty of a criminal or civil offence and those who have been found to have committed some serious sort of misconduct. You can read the policy here


The first to be terminated was Alan Eagleseon, disgraced hockey czar. Eagleson has been followed by six others. There remain a number of ignominious members of the Order who have been found guilty of professional misconduct, yet whom have not been removed from the Order.

Alan Eagleson; Officer of the Order of Canada; Order of Canada

This has caused periodic debate about their continued membership. Despite this there has been a reluctance on the part of the Advisory Council to retroactively apply the Termination Policy to findings of misconduct that predate the policy’s adoption. Disgraced Olympians Ben Johnson and Angela Taylor-Issajenko are the most prominent examples. During the Dubin Inquiry into doping in Canadian Sport, both Johnson and Taylor-Issajenko admitted to having repeatedly taken performance enhancing drugs (steroids). Taylor-Issakenko and Johnson had each been appointed Members of the Order in 1985 and 1986 respectively. Given their habitual cheating and with their reputations in ruins, both would be stripped of various athletics medals. 

Alan Eagleson who was the first person removed from the Order of Canada. 

Ben Johnson, CM, the disgraced Olympian whose misconduct predated the adoption of a formal termination policy and thus he remains a Member of the Order. 

Order of Canada 50th; ORder of Canada anniversary
Ben Johnson; Order of Canada; Member of the Order of Canada; disgraced olympian
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