TORONTO, ON Aug. 14, 2008 – Forty-two Canadian organizations, including the Catholic Civil Rights League, representing an estimated one million-plus members, collectively filed a letter of complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council on Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 to express concerns about the role of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in the awarding of the Order of Canada. The complaint arises from the recommendation of the Advisory Council, which the Chief Justice chairs, to award the Order of Canada to Henry Morgentaler.
“CCRL helped spearhead lay Catholic protest to Morgentaler receiving this award, and we support this ecumenical initiative as one of several we are pursuing to improve the process for bestowing national honours,” said Joanne McGarry, executive director. “We hope all our efforts will help restore the Order of Canada to its rightful place as a unifying symbol honouring individual Canadians who exemplify our shared values. We also hope that this complaint will help answer some of the questions many Canadians have been asking about the role of the Chief Justice in approving candidates, since it is possible that some candidates may later be involved in cases that come before the Supreme Court.”

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s role in this process may be seen to have compromised her position in respect of her future engagements on the abortion issue.  Morgentaler initiated a constitutional challenge in 2003 for public funding for his clinic in New Brunswick (in which the League and others were refused the ability to intervene, including the denial of a further appeal by the SCC in June, 2005). Earlier this month, the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench granted Morgentaler “public interest standing” to represent women in his lawsuit against the province. 

Efforts to have the deliberations of the Advisory Council made public have been refused.  It appears that this may have been the first time that consensus was not reached on the appointment, whereas other worthy candidates have been overlooked for being too “contentious”. The Council had a previous custom of not re-opening consideration of those whose candidacy has been refused in the past, but it was not followed in this case. In addition, candidates are usually disqualified if they have faced criminal charges or been sanctioned by their professional governing bodies, circumstances overlooked in Morgentaler’s case.
A Canadian telephone poll with 13,324 respondents conducted between July 17-21, 2008 has revealed that 55.8% of Canadians oppose the awarding of the Order of Canada to Morgentaler. The national poll was commissioned by Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) and conducted by KLRVU Polling.
Clearly many Canadians, regardless of their views on abortion, have real concerns about using the Order of Canada to honour its best-known advocate and practitioner. The League hopes that the controversy will result in better transparency and consistency in the process for granting the honour, as well as a questioning of the suitability of having the chief justice continue to serve on the Advisory Council.
About CCRL
Catholic Civil Rights League ( assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization and has chapters across Canada. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.

For further information: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, 416-466-8244;