© 2008  Karen Selick

An edited version of this article first appeared in the July 15, 2008 issue of the National Post.
 If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.

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A Worthless Award

The Order of Canada is something that I had never spent more than a few milliseconds thinking about (in common with most Canadians, I suspect) until the Morgentaler controversy came along and the editor of this page invited me to express my opinion.

So now I’ve researched it, and I’m relieved to see that my former inattentiveness was fully justified.  My informed opinion is identical to my previous gut reaction.  The Order of Canada is not worth thinking about.  It’s not worth having. We should never have started the whole thing in the first place.  Why?  Because giving awards for “outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation” is not a proper function of the state.

Yes, recognizing people who have made positive contributions to the lives of others is a good thing to do.  It allows the beneficiaries to express their gratitude, rewards the benefactors, and encourages others to emulate them. But it’s something that should be done by those who actually know and genuinely appreciate what the exceptional individual did, not by a tiny group of advisors purporting to act on behalf of a huge mass of people who either don’t give a damn or in some cases passionately disagree with the decision.

The Canadian state is not a gigantic service club that we’ve all joined and pledged to advance the goals of.  It’s a coercive organization with a territorial monopoly. We can’t just up and quit if we find the state is doing something morally repugnant.  Individual recipients of the Order of Canada can resign in protest if they can’t tolerate being lumped in with some new recipient, but the rest of us have no such option available to make our distaste known.

It therefore behooves the state—at least, a state that purports to cherish individual freedom, as Canada does in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms—to exercise self-restraint, to abstain from intruding upon the independence of its subjects except where there is overwhelming consensus—preferably unanimity. We can all agree, for instance, that the state should outlaw murder, because we all have the same interest in not being murdered by a fellow subject.  But if most of us were given the chance to decide whether or not we wanted to express appreciation for a job well done to the 5,479 individuals who have been granted the Order of Canada, there would be massive disagreement.

There are 152 politicians among that crowd.  There are 201 lawyers and judges. Some of the names turned my stomach.  I voted against these people and denounced their destructive policies or judicial decisions whenever I had the chance. There’s one honouree whom I consider to be a hypocritical, dishonest scoundrel of the lowest order. How dare the state honour him in my name?

Those who nominate politicians and controversial figures, knowing that their candidates have generated much opposition during the course of the careers they are supposedly being honoured for, and those who make the awards to such people, are simply bullies, shoving their opinions down the throats of those with no power to resist. 

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       November 16, 2008