Local Order of Canada member Frank Chauvin has launched a legal challenge against the advisory council that decided to make abortion-rights activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler an Order of Canada member.
“This is not the way they’re supposed to choose,” Mr. Chauvin, a devout Catholic, said from his Windsor home on Friday.
“It’s quite evident that it’s entered into a political arena…. I don’t think in the history of this medal there’s ever been so much controversy over someone receiving the Order of Canada.”
Earlier in the day, Dr. Morgentaler was recognized as a member of the Order of Canada at a ceremony in Québec City presided over by Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean.
At the gathering, Dr. Morgentaler was praised as “a catalyst for change and important debate.”
He was described as a man who has “heightened awareness of women’s reproductive health issues” and put himself at risk in his efforts to “increase health care options for Canadian women.”
The event was televised live, but Mr. Chauvin didn’t watch. “I’ve got other things to do than sit in front of the TV and watch something that I don’t agree with.”
Nominations for the Order of Canada – the country’s top civilian award – are reviewed by The Advisory Council for the Order of Canada, who then transmit their decisions to the Governor General.
Mr. Chauvin has retained Windsor lawyer Gerard Charette to make a court application that seeks to invalidate the award.
Mr. Charette said the application was filed in late August. “This is a unique council, but it is a government entity. And most government boards and tribunals are subject to being reviewed by courts when they make decisions that are incorrect,” he said.
Asked the legal basis for the application, Mr. Charette said the advisory council made “a whole range of errors” in its decision process regarding Dr. Morgentaler.
Mr. Charette said Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin, who chairs the council, should have removed herself from the process because Dr. Morgentaler is a litigant in a court case against the government of New Brunswick.
But Lucie Carron, a spokeswoman for the office of the Governor General’s secretary, said Chief Justice McLachlin does not vote or take a position on Order of Canada candidates.
Mr. Carron said Chief Justice McLachlin decided at the outset of her position on the council to remain neutral on nominations, and that the chair’s role is to manage meetings and “to ensure there’s discussion.“
The Canadian Judicial Council has already dismissed a complaint that alleged Chief Justice McLachlin improperly played a role in Dr. Morgentaler’s nomination to the Order of Canada. In September, the CJC stated that “there is no merit, nor any facts to support” the allegation.
Mr. Chauvin’s court application also seeks greater disclosure and transparency relating to the council’s deliberations. “At this point in time, we’re trying to get the records of the advisory council, and the advisory council has refused so far to release those records,” Mr. Charette said.
Ms. Carron said all deliberations of the advisory council on any Canadian honour are confidential, and the process on Dr. Morgentaler’s appointment to the Order of Canada is no different.
“It’s mostly to protect the people who are being nominated. You know, not every nomination makes it to the committee. Not every nomination is accepted,” Ms. Carron said.
Mr. Charette acknowledged that the court application enters uncharted legal territory, but would not speculate on its chances of failing.
“I don’t want to predict defeat. I’m predicting victory,” Mr. Charette said. “I’ve got some confidence that Frank has some serious questions to ask, and I’ve got confidence in the fairness of the judicial system, so we’re going to proceed.”
However, Mr. Chauvin said he doesn’t realistically expect the advisory council to reverse its decision. Asked why he’s nevertheless embarking on the legal challenge, Mr. Chauvin replied: “It’s something that we have to do. The whole thing is such a mess.”
When Dr. Morgentaler’s appointment was announced in July, Mr. Chauvin said he would return his medal in protest.
Mr. Charette said he has since advised Mr. Chauvin to retain the honour. “So long as he is a member of the order, he has status to bring the application to court.”
But Mr. Chauvin, a retired Windsor police detective, said that whether the court application succeeds or fails, he plans on returning his medal. “It’s going in, one way or another. I have not changed my mind one iota. I made a commitment, and it’s going to be returned.”
“When it’s going to be returned is another thing, but it’s definitely going. I am not keeping the medal.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Matt Achine, after an October 11, 2008 article by Dalson Chen in The Windsor Star