Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Order of Canada

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National order

Currently constituted

Order of Canada

Desiderantes meliorem patriam

All living Canadians, except federal and provincial politicians and judges while holding office.

Awarded for
The highest degree of merit, an outstanding level of talent and service, or an exceptional contribution to Canada and humanity.

The Order of Canada (French: Ordre du Canada) is a Canadian national order, admission into which is the second highest honour for merit in the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada. It comes second only to membership in the Order of Merit, which is the personal gift of Canada's monarch.


To coincide with the centennial of Canadian Confederation, the three-tiered order was established in 1967 as a fellowship that recognizes the outstanding merit or distinguished service of Canadians who make a major difference to Canada through lifelong contributions in every field of endeavour, as well as the efforts by non-Canadians who have made the world better by their actions. Membership is accorded to those who exemplify the order's Latin motto, desiderantes meliorem patriam, meaning "they desire a better country", a phrase taken from Hebrews 11:16. The three tiers of the order are Companion, Officer, and Member; specific individuals may be given extraordinary membership and deserving non-Canadians may receive honorary appointment into each grade.

The monarch—at present Elizabeth II—is Sovereign of the order and the serving governor general, currently David Lloyd Johnston, is its Chancellor and Principal Companion and administers the order on behalf of the reigning king or queen. Appointees to the order are recommended by an advisory board and formally inducted by the governor general or the sovereign. As of October 2016, 6,699 people have been appointed to the Order of Canada, including scientists, musicians, politicians, artists, athletes, business people, and film stars, benefactors, and others. Some have resigned or have been removed from the order, while other appointments have been controversial. Appointees are presented with insignia and receive the right to armorial bearings.


The process of founding the Order of Canada began in early 1966 and came to a conclusion on 17 April 1967, when the organization was instituted by Queen Elizabeth II, on the advice of the Canadian prime minister, Lester B. Pearson, who was assisted with the establishment of the order by John Matheson. The association was officially launched on 1 July 1967, the 100th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, with Governor General Roland Michener being the first inductee to the order—to the level of Companion—and on 7 July of the same year, 90 more people were appointed, including Vincent Massey, Louis St. Laurent, Hugh MacLennan, David Bauer, Gabrielle Roy, Donald Creighton, Thérèse Casgrain, Wilder Penfield, Arthur Lismer, M. J. Coldwell, Edwin Baker, Alex Colville, and Maurice Richard. During a visit to London, United Kingdom, later in 1970, Michener presented the Queen with her Sovereign's badge for the Order of Canada, which she first wore during a banquet in Yellowknife in July 1970.

From the Order of Canada grew a Canadian honours system, thereby reducing the use of British honours (i.e. those administered by the Queen in her British privy council). Among the civilian awards of the Canadian honours system, the Order of Canada comes third, after the Cross of Valour and membership in the Order of Merit, which is within the personal gift of Canada's monarch. By the 1980s, Canada's provinces began to develop their own distinct honours and decorations.


The Canadian monarch, seen as the fount of honour, is at the apex of the Order of Canada as its Sovereign, followed by the governor general, who serves as the fellowship's Chancellor. Thereafter follow three grades, which are, in order of precedence: Companion, Officer, and Member, each having accordant post-nominal letters that members are entitled to use. Each incumbent governor general is also installed as the Principal Companion for the duration of his or her time in the viceregal post and continues as an extraordinary Companion thereafter. Additionally, any governor general, viceregal consort, former governor general, former viceregal consort, or member of the Canadian Royal Family may be appointed as an extraordinary Companion, Officer, or Member. Promotions in grade are possible, though this is ordinarily not done within five years of the initial appointment, and a maximum of five honorary appointments into any of the three grades may be made by the governor general each year. As of March 2016, there have been twenty one honorary appointments.

There were originally, in effect, only two ranks to the Order of Canada: Companion and the Medal of Service. There was, however, also a third award, the Medal of Courage, meant to recognize acts of gallantry. This latter decoration fell in rank between the other two levels, but was anomalous within the Order of Canada, being a separate award of a different nature rather than a middle grade of the order. Without ever having been awarded, the Medal of Courage was on 1 July 1972 replaced by the autonomous Cross of Valour and, at the same time, the levels of Officer and Member were introduced, with all existing holders of the Medal of Service created as Officers. Lester Pearson's vision of a three-tiered structure to the order was thus fulfilled.

Companions of the Order of Canada (post-nominals: CC, in French: Compagnon de l'ordre du Canada) have demonstrated the highest degree of merit to Canada and humanity, on either the national or international scene. Up to 15 Companions are appointed annually, with an imposed limit of 165 living Companions at any given time, not including those appointed as extraordinary Companions or in an honorary capacity. As of October 2015, there are 143 living Companions, none being honorary. Since 1994, substantive members are the only regular citizens who are empowered to administer the Canadian Oath of Citizenship.

Officers of the Order of Canada (post-nominals: OC, in French: Officier de l'ordre du Canada) have demonstrated an outstanding level of talent and service to Canadians, and up to 64 may be appointed each year, not including those inducted as extraordinary Officers or in an honorary capacity, with no limit to how many may be living at one time. As of October 2015, there were 1,123 living Officers, none being honorary.

Members of the Order of Canada (post-nominals: CM, in French: Membre de l'ordre du Canada) have made an exceptional contribution to Canada or Canadians at a local or regional level, group, field or activity. As many as 136 Members may be appointed annually, not including extraordinary Members and those inducted on an honorary basis, and there is no limit on how many Members may be living at one time. As of October 2015, there were 2,225 living Members, none being honorary.


Upon admission into the Order of Canada, members are given various insignia of the organization, all designed by Bruce W. Beatty, who "broke new ground in the design of insignia of Orders within The Queen's realms" and was himself made a member of the order in 1990; Beatty attended every investiture ceremony between 1967 and early 2010. The badge belonging to the Sovereign consists of a jewelled, 18-carat gold crown of rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, from which is suspended a white, enamelled, hexagonal snowflake design, with six equal leaves and diamonds between each. At the centre is a disc bearing a maple leaf in pavé-laid rubies on a white enamel background, surrounded at its edge by a red enamel ring (annulus) bearing the motto of the order. The Chancellor wears the badge of a Companion and is, upon installation as governor general, granted a livery collar for wear at Order of Canada investiture ceremonies.

The badges for inductees are of a similar design to the sovereign's badge, though without precious stones, and slight differences for each grade. For Companions, the emblem is gilt with a red enamel maple leaf in the central disk; for Officers, it is gilt with a gold maple leaf; and for Members, both the badge itself and the maple leaf are silver. All are topped by a St. Edward's Crown, symbolizing that the order is headed by the sovereign, and the reverse is plain except for the word CANADA.

The ribbon is white and bordered in red stripes, similar to the Canadian national flag; the chest ribbon is the same for each grade, save for a metallic maple leaf in the centre, the colour of which matches that on the badge of the grade that the wearer was appointed to. For civilian wear, a lapel pin is worn on the jacket, which is designed as a miniature of the medallion.

Wear of the insignia is according to guidelines issued by the Chancellery of Honours, which stipulate that the badges be worn before most other national orders—that is, at the end of an individual's medal bar closest to the centre of the chest or at the wearer's neck—with only the Victoria Cross, the Cross of Valour, and the badge of the Order of Merit permitted to be worn before the badges of the Order of Canada. Those in the grades of Companion or Officer may wear their badges on a neck ribbon, while those in the Member group display their insignia suspended by a ribbon from a medal bar on the left chest. Protocol originally followed the British tradition, wherein female appointees wore their Order of Canada emblem on a ribbon bow positioned on the left shoulder. These regulations were altered in 1997, and women may wear their insignia in either the traditional manner or in the same fashion as the men.

With the patriation in 1988 of oversight of heraldry from the UK to Canada through the Canadian Heraldic Authority, the constitution of the Order of Canada was amended to include the entitlement of all inductees to petition the Chief Herald of Canada for personal armorial bearings (coats of arms), should they not already possess any. Companions may receive supporters, and all members may have the escutcheon (shield) of their arms encircled with a red ribbon bearing the order's motto in gold, and from which is suspended a rendition of the holder's Order of Canada badge. The Queen, Sovereign of the Order of Canada, approved the augmentation of her royal arms for Canada with the order's ribbon in 1987.

Possession and sale

The constitution of the Order of Canada states that the insignia remain property of the Crown, and requires any member of the order to return to the chancellery their original emblem should they be upgraded within the order to a higher rank. Thus, while badges may be passed down as family heirlooms, or loaned or donated for display in museums, they cannot be sold by any individual other than the monarch with the proper advice and consent of her ministers. Over the decades, however, a number of Order of Canada insignia have been put up for sale, the first being the Companion's badge of Major Coldwell, who was appointed in 1967; his badge was sold at auction in 1981, an act that received criticism from government officials.

In 2007, it was revealed that one of the first ever issued insignia of the Order of Canada, a Medal of Service awarded originally to Quebec historian Gustave Lanctot, was put up for sale via e-mail. Originally, the anonymous auctioneer, who had purchased the decoration for $45 at an estate sale in Montreal, attempted to sell the insignia on eBay; however, after the bidding reached $15,000, eBay removed the item, citing its policy against the sale of government property, including "any die, seal or stamp provided by, belonging to, or used by a government department, diplomatic or military authority appointed by or acting under the authority of Her Majesty." Rideau Hall stated that selling medals was "highly discouraged", however the owner continued efforts to sell the insignia via the internet. Five years later, a miniature insignia presented to Tommy Douglas was put on auction in Ontario as part of a larger collection of Douglas artifacts. Douglas's daughter, Shirley Douglas, purchased the set for $20,000.

Eligibility and appointment

Any of the three levels of the Order of Canada are open to all living Canadian citizens, except all federal and provincial politicians and judges while they hold office. The order recognizes the achievement of outstanding merit or distinguished service by Canadians who made a major difference to Canada through lifelong contributions in every field of endeavour, as well as the efforts made by non-Canadians who have made the world better by their actions. Membership is thus accorded to those who exemplify the order's Latin motto, taken from Hebrews 11:16 of the Bible, desiderantes meliorem patriam, meaning "they desire a better country." Each of the six to eight hundred nominations submitted each year, by any person or organization, is received by the order's Advisory Council, which, along with the governor general, makes the final choice of new inductees, typically by consensus rather than a vote; a process that, when conceived, was the first of its kind in the world. Appointees are then accepted into the organization at an investiture ceremony typically conducted by the governor general at Rideau Hall, although the Queen or a provincial viceroy may perform the task, and the ceremony may take place in other locations. Since the 1991 investiture of Ted Rogers, Order of Canada instalment ceremonies have been broadcast on various television channels and the Internet; recipients are given a complimentary video recording of their investiture ceremony from Rogers Cable.

Advisory council

The task of the order's advisory council is to evaluate the nominations of potential inductees, decide if the candidates are worthy enough to be accepted into the order, and make recommendations to the governor general, who appoints the new members. The council is chaired by the Chief Justice of Canada, and includes the Clerk of the Queen's Privy Council, the Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, the President of the Royal Society of Canada, the Chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and five members of the order who sit on the council for a three-year period. If a nomination involves a non-Canadian citizen, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs is invited by the Advisory Council to offer evaluation. Decisions of the council and new appointments to and dismissals from the Order of Canada are announced through the Canada Gazette.

As of February 2016, the members of the advisory council are:

  • Kim Baird CM - Canadian First Nations Leader
  • Elizabeth Cannon FRSC - Chair, Universities Canada
  • George T.H. Cooper CM CD QC - Lawyer, Politician
  • Jean-Marie de Koninck CQ - Québécois professor
  • Graham Flack – Deputy Minister, Canadian Heritage
  • Maryse Lassonde - President, Royal Society of Canada
  • Pierre Lassonde CM OQ – Chair, Canada Council for the Arts
  • Monique F. Leroux CM OQ - Business Leader
  • The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin PC – Chief Justice of Canada (Chair)
  • H. Sanford Riley CM - Lawyer, Business Leader
  • Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet
  • W. Brett Wilson CM SOM - Entrepreneur, Philanthropist
  • Refusal

    Few have declined entry into the Order of Canada; as of 1997, 1.5 percent of offered appointments to the order had been refused. The identities of those individuals who have declined induction since the 1970s are kept confidential, so the full list is not publicly known. Some, however, have spoken openly about their decisions, including Robert Weaver, who stated that he was critical of the "three-tier" nature of the order; Claude Ryan and Morley Callaghan, who both declined the honour in 1967; Mordecai Richler, who twice declined; and Marcel Dubé, Roger Lemelin, and Glenn Gould, who all declined in 1970. However, all the above individuals, save for Gould and Weaver, later did accept appointment into the order. Others have rejected appointment on the basis of being supporters of the Quebec sovereignty movement—such as Luc-André Godbout, Rina Lasnier, and Geneviève Bujold—while Alice Parizeau, another supporter of Quebec sovereignty, was criticized for accepting entry into the order despite her beliefs.

    Victoria Cross recipient Cecil Meritt cited the fact that he already held Canada's highest decoration as a reason not to be admitted to the Order of Canada. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was in 1982 offered appointment to the order as an honorary Companion; however, he refused on the grounds that, as the consort of the Queen, he was a Canadian and thus entitled to a substantive appointment. In 1993, the Advisory Council proposed an amendment to the constitution of the Order of Canada, making the sovereign's spouse automatically a Companion, but Prince Philip again refused, stating that if he was to be appointed, it should be on his merits. Congruent with these arguments, he in 1988 accepted without issue a substantive induction as a Companion of the Order of Australia. In 2013, the constitution of the Order of Canada was amended in a way that permitted the substantive appointment of Royal Family members and Prince Philip accepted induction as the first extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada on 26 April 2013. Former Premier of Newfoundland Joey Smallwood declined appointment as a Companion because he felt that, as a self-proclaimed Father of Confederation, he deserved a knighthood. Smallwood was never knighted and later accepted induction as a Companion.

    Resignation and removal

    Resignations from the order can take place only through the prescribed channels, which include the member submitting to the Secretary General of the Order of Canada a letter notifying the chancellery of his or her desire to terminate their membership, and only with the governor general's approval can the resignation take effect. On 1 June 2009, the governor general accepted the resignations of astronomer and inventor René Racine, pianist Jacqueline Richard, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte; on 11 January 2010, did the same for Renato Giuseppe Bosisio, an engineering professor, and Father Lucien Larré; and on 19 April 2010 for Frank Chauvin. It was also reported that other constituents of the Order of Canada had, in reaction to Henry Morgentaler's induction into their ranks, indicated that they would return or had returned their emblems in protest, including organizations such as the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Madonna House Apostolate doing so on behalf of deceased former members.

    Members may be removed from the order if the Advisory Council feels their actions have brought the society into disrepute. In order for this to be done, the council must agree to take action and then send a letter to the person both telling of the group's decision and requesting a response. Anyone removed from the order is required to return their insignia. As of October 2015, six people have been removed from the Order of Canada: Alan Eagleson, who was dismissed after being jailed for fraud in 1998; David Ahenakew, who faced calls for his removal due to anti-Semitic comments he made in 2002; T. Sher Singh, after the Law Society of Upper Canada found him guilty of professional misconduct and revoked his license to practice law; Steve Fonyo, due to "his multiple criminal convictions, for which there are no outstanding appeals"; Garth Drabinsky, who was found guilty of fraud and forgery in Ontario and has been a fugitive from American law for related crimes; and Lord Black of Crossharbour, who was convicted in the United States in 2007 of fraud and obstruction of justice. In 2013, Norman Barwin resigned from the order as a result of the Advisory Council moving forward with his pending removal due to his being found guilty of professional misconduct.

    Controversial appointments

    The advisory board attempts to remain apolitical and pragmatic in its approach to selecting new members of the Order of Canada, generally operating without input from ministers of the Crown; political interference has occurred only once, when in 1978 Paul Desmarais's investiture was delayed for six months by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. However, some of the committee's selections have caused controversy. For instance, the admission in 2001 of sex educator Sue Johanson, host of the long-running Sunday Night Sex Show, as a Member stirred controversy among some of Canada's Christian organizations, as Johanson had taught teenagers methods of safe sex alongside abstinence. Similarly, the acceptance of birth control advocate Elizabeth Bagshaw and gay rights campaigner Brent Hawkes also incited debate.

    Abortion activist Henry Morgentaler's appointment to the order on 1 July 2008 not only marked the first time the Advisory Council had not been unanimous in its decision, but also proved to be one of the most controversial appointments in the order's history, drawing both praise from abortion rights groups and the ire of Members of Parliament, groups opposing abortion, and religious leaders. The latter organized protests outside of Rideau Hall on 9 July, while compatriots did the same in front of Government House in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, the official residence of that province's lieutenant governor.

    One former police detective, Frank Chauvin, along with a Catholic anti-abortion activist, filed suit against the Order of Canada Advisory Council, demanding that the minutes of the meeting relating to Morgentaler be made public. The appointment of Morgentaler prompted former Liberal Member of Parliament Clifford Lincoln to write that the workings of the Advisory Council were "mysterious", citing what he theorized to be inbuilt partiality and conflict of interest as reasons why Margaret Somerville, whom Lincoln had twice nominated to the Advisory Council, was turned down for appointment, yet Morgentaler was accepted. Journalist Henry Aubin in the Montreal Gazette opined that the council's rejection of Somerville, her personal opposition to same-sex marriage, and the acceptance of Brent Hawkes, Jane Rule, and Jean Chrétien, all regarded as supporting same-sex unions, as well as the appointment of a controversial figure such as Morgentaler, were all signs that the Advisory Council operated with partisan bias. Aubin also pointed to the presence on the council of members of the Royal Society of Canada, an organization into which Somerville was received.

    Proposed amendments

    At a 2006 conference on Commonwealth honours, Christopher McCreery, an expert on Canada's honours, raised the concern that the three grades of the Order of Canada were insufficient to recognize the nation's very best; one suggestion was to add two more levels to the order, equivalent to knighthoods in Australian and British orders. The order of precedence also came under scrutiny, particularly the anomaly that all three grades of the Order of Canada supersede the top levels of each of the other orders (except the Order of Merit), contrary to international practice.

    In June 2010, McCreery suggested reforms to the Order of Canada that would avert the awkwardness around appointing those in Canada's royal family as full members of the order: He theorized that the Queen, as the order's Sovereign, could simply appoint, on ministerial advice, anyone as an extra member, or the monarch could issue an ordinance allowing for her relations to be made regular members when approved. Similarly, McCreery proposed that a new division of the order could be established specifically for governors general, their spouses, and members of the Royal Family, a version of which was adopted in 2013.

    Additional honours

    At certain periods, holders of the order were presented with other awards, usually commemorative medals. Thus far, two commemoratives have been given automatically to every living member of the Order of Canada: the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977 and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

    Fiftieth anniversary 2017

    In honour of the Order’s fiftieth anniversary the Order of Canada and The Walrus Foundation, also partnered to present The Walrus Talks Conversations About Canada: We Desire a Better Country, a national tour featuring 50 members of the Order and 50 youth leaders to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation. In addition to this, the Rideau Hall Foundation commissioned author Lawrence Scanlan to write They Desire a Better Country, a book highlighting 50 members of the Order and their contributions.

    Canadian historian Christopher McCreery released two books in commemoration of the Order’s fiftieth anniversary. Fifty Years Honouring Canadians; The Order of Canada, 1967-2017, a pictorial history of the Order’s first fifty years, with foreword by Jean Vanier CC, GOQ; and The Order of Canada; Genesis of an Honours System, a scholarly history of the Order of Canada and the Canadian honours system, with prefatory message by Queen Elizabeth II and foreword by the Governor General of Canada David Johnston.

    A website dedicated to the history of the Order of Canada, was launched by Christopher McCreery.


  • Chancellery of Honours (September 2005), Wearing of Orders, Decorations and Medals (PDF), Queen's Printer for Canada, retrieved 25 July 2009 
  • Department of National Defence (26 March 2009), "18", Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces (PDF), 1, Queen's Printer for Canada, 18.01, retrieved 24 July 2009 
  • Elizabeth II (2013), The Constitution of the Order of Canada, Queen's Printer for Canada, retrieved 2 May 2013 
  • McCreery, Christopher (2005), The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History and Development, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-0-8020-3940-8 
  • McCreery, Christopher (2010), The Crown and Honours: Getting it Right (PDF), Queen's University Press, retrieved 24 October 2011 
  • Office of the Governor General of Canada (17 October 2016), Honours > Order of Canada > Search: Order of Canada Membership List > Honour Received: Order of Canada; Field: Both Living and Deceased, retrieved 17 October 2016 
  • References

    Order of Canada Wikipedia