The Order of Canada, the highest level of distinction in the Canadian Honours System, was established on 1 July 1967, the 100th anniversary of Confederation. Any Canadian may be appointed a Member (CM), Officer (OC) or Companion (CC) of the Order in recognition of outstanding achievements or exemplary contributions in any sector of Canadian society. Appointments to the Order of Canada are made by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order. This body, chaired by the Chief Justice of Canada, meets twice per year to consider nominations made by members of the public. From 1967 to 2015, 6,530 people from all walks of life have been appointed to the Order.

Ranks

When the Order was created in 1967, the only two honours it awarded were the rank of Companion and the Medal of Services. There are now three categories, in each of which the number of appointments is limited. Companions (for which the maximum number at any time is limited to 165) are appointed “in recognition of their outstanding achievement and merit of the highest degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large.” Officers (of which no more than 64 may be appointed in any one year) are appointed “for achievement and merit of a high degree, especially service to Canada or to humanity at large.” Members (of which no more than 136 may be appointed per year) are appointed “for distinguished service in or to a particular community, group or field of activity.” A person may be appointed a Companion only when there is a vacancy, and Officers and Members may be promoted in rank.

Her Majesty the Queen is the Sovereign of the Order. The governor general of Canada is the chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order and an extraordinary Companion, and the governor general’s spouse is also an extraordinary Companion. A member of the Royal Family may be made a Companion, Officer or extraordinary Member, and anyone who is not a Canadian citizen may be named an honorary Companion, Officer or Member. The Governor General may appoint up to five persons as honorary Companions, Officers or Members each year.

Canadian prime ministers and chief justices of the Supreme Court of Canada are generally appointed to the Order as Companions shortly after leaving office.

Some groups of people can also receive the Order of Canada. In 2014, the Canadian rock group Rush (composed of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart) was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. This was the first time that a group rather than an individual had been chosen to receive the Order.

Insignia, Wearing and Motto

Investiture ceremonies for the Order of Canada are held in spring and fall at Rideau Hall, the official residence of the governor general, in Ottawa. The insignia of the Order is a stylized six-pointed snowflake. It is worn around the neck by Companions and Officers and on the left side of the chest by Members. Recipients are entitled to place after their name the letters associated with their rank, namely CC, OC or CM, and to wear a small reproduction of the insignia on their street clothing. The motto inscribed on the insignia is Desiderantes meliorem patriam, which means “They desire a better country.” The insignia of the Order of Canada was designed by Bruce W. Beatty in 1967.

In exceptional cases, if a recipient of the Order is unable to travel to Ottawa, the investiture may take place somewhere other than Rideau Hall. In 1980, Governor General Edward Schreyer travelled to the sickbed of Terry Fox to make him a Companion of the Order. In 2000, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson travelled to London to invest the Queen Mother as an honorary Companion of the Order on the occasion of her 100th birthday. Private investiture ceremonies are also held in various parts of Canada from time to time.

When people die, their membership in the Order ceases, but if someone who has been appointed to the Order dies before the investiture ceremony, he or she is still considered to have been appointed. The governor general can also accept someone’s resignation from the Order or issue an ordinance terminating their appointment.

Controversies

Over the years, some appointments to the Order have been controversial. The most famous example is probably the appointment of Dr. Henry Morgentaler in July 2008, “for his commitment to increased health care options for women, his determined efforts to influence Canadian public policy and his leadership in humanist and civil liberties organizations.” This recognition of the doctor’s role in defending women’s right to abortion was widely saluted, but was criticized by some members of Parliament, as well as by anti-abortion groups and various religious leaders. In protest, a few members of the Order, including Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, Father Lucien Larré, astronomer René Racine, pianist and conductor Jacqueline Richard and former police chief Frank Chauvin, returned their insignia and asked no longer to be belong to the Order. Their resignations were accepted by Governor General Michaëlle Jean in 2009 and 2010.

Lastly, a person’s appointment to the Order may be terminated on the recommendation of the Advisory Council if that person is convicted of a criminal offence, or if his or her conduct undermines the credibility, integrity or relevance of the Order, or if he or she has been subject to official sanction, such as a fine or a reprimand, by an adjudicating body, professional association or other organization. Since 1967, seven people have had their appointments to the Order terminated: Robert Alan Eagleson, David Ahenakew, Tapishar Sher Singh, Steve Fonyo, Garth Howard Drabinsky, Conrad Black and Ranjit Chandra.