A proxy caste

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The Article

The awarding of the Order of Canada to abortionist Henry Morgentaler has stirred controversy in recent weeks. The negative attention paid to this decorous institution has led some to ask: Is this the end of the Order of Canada as we know it? This week, the National Post has asked its regular contributors to offer their opinion about the future of Canada’s highest civilian honour.

After reading Karen Selick’s denunciation and John Moore’s approbation of the Order of Canada in Tuesday’s Post, my conclusion is that Moore’s chances of eventually getting one just improved significantly, and Selick’s disappeared entirely.

For any rational observer of OC history knows that only people who hold the “correct” views are eligible for the OC, and Ms. Selick’s views aremanifestly “incorrect.”

Which isn’t to say that most of the OCs aren’t worthy. But then there are all those equally worthy individuals who will never get one because they hold the wrong views.

Case in point: bio-ethicist Margaret Somerville whose nominator was told by a committee member her candidate was “too controversial.” Ms. Somerville has made a great contribution to the intellectual life of Canada and has received a cornucopia of other honours. But she does not believe in gay marriage. For the committee, offending gays is controversial, while sickening Catholics is not.

The only public honours truly objectively bestowed are military ones—which, unlike the OC, cannot be nullified or recalled. You either flung your body on that dud grenade you thought was live to save your buddies, or you didn’t.

But with civic awards, there’s always that whiff of skepticism. Sometimes it’s an outright farce. One friend with an OC indignantly informed me that she gets near-weekly letters begging her for references. These letters come from brazenly social-climbing OC-wannabbees whom she doesn’t even know personally. (My friend, by the way, got her OC the honest way: her nomination was a surprise to her, and richly deserved.)

There is no point in advocating an end to the Order of Canada. Human nature is such that people will have their caste system one way or another. Once you have replaced the social class system and its lords and ladies and knights with democratic classlessness, you must invent a proxy caste that cultural elites can shoot for. Somewhere in every polity there must be a virtual club to which Groucho Marx would not belong if they would have him as a member.

Let the Order stand. But take away the secrecy of the process. Rotate the committee membership and make it reflective of Canada, not a university Women’s Studies department. Like juries. You know, democratic.

Make professional politicians ineligible. Make no controversial appointments, or admit both sides of the controversies. That would be a beginning. Most of the non-ideologically appointed members would still be there.

But Sue Johanson who in 2001 received her Order of Canada for dispatching sexual tips to adolescents and fondling “pleasure toys” on her Women’s Television Sunday Night Sex Show? I daresay she wouldn’t. And come to think, maybe neither would writer Jane Vance who was appointed for “populating her novels with homosexual as well as heterosexual characters.” She’d not be missed.

Nor would Henry Morgentaler. On the other hand, we have Morgentaler to thank for exposing the hypocrisy at the Order’s heart, and that’s an accomplishment worth rewarding.

Barbara Kay
Latest posts by Barbara Kay (see all)

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