Former senator Murray Sinclair and novelist Yann Martel are among the 135 appointees to the Order of Canada, announced Wednesday by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.
This year’s list also includes the first Canadian woman hired as a national airline pilot, public health and equity advocates, a CBC investigative journalist and a business owner who donated thousands of meals to frontline workers during the pandemic, even as his own restaurants lost income.
Considered one of Canada’s highest civilian honours, the Order of Canada is meant to recognize people who make “extraordinary contributions to the nation,” according to the Governor General of Canada website.
Martel and Sinclair were both named as companions, the highest of the honour’s three levels, which also include the level of officer and member. There can be no more than 165 living companions at any time.
Martel, best known for his 2001 novel Life of Pi, said he loved getting awards for his books, but felt “embarrassed” by having the award attached to him personally. His citation noted his contributions to literature as well as philanthropy.
‘So many other people who I can think of’
“My first thought was, there were so many other people who I can think of — lesser-known groups, volunteers, [and people] who have had incredibly difficult lives,” he said. “Surely they deserve it, too.”
He said he’d like to see others rewarded, rather than “another overprivileged white male,” but that he plans to use the attention to highlight causes he supports in Saskatoon.
Martel attributed his success as a novelist to a great deal of good luck, along with hard work.
“It all comes down to luck, so I don’t think luck should necessarily be rewarded,” he said. “But for my books, I’m happy.”
Sinclair recognized for reconciliation efforts
Sinclair, who is also the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is recognized for his “commitment to the representation of Indigenous legal issues and his dedication to reconciliation” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, according to Wednesday’s statement.
The TRC released 94 calls to action in 2015 in its report that found 4,100 named and unnamed students died in residential schools across Canada.
This past spring, after hundreds of potential unmarked graves were found at the sites of several former residential schools across Canada, the federal government unanimously passed legislation in May to create the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
CBC reached out to Sinclair to request an interview for this story but he was not available.
Several other honourees, including former national chief Ovide William Mercredi, were also recognized for work in advocacy around Indigenous rights and reconciliation.
Advocates for equity
Dozens of other Canadians will be joining the Order of Canada as officers or members. One of the former is Evelyn Forget, whose work on the economics of health has taken on profound meaning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think that many of us have been aware for a long time that income is a really important determinant of health outcomes,” she said. “And I think many more of us became aware of that during this pandemic when we saw how low-income neighbourhoods in particular were ravaged by the virus.”
In 2020, Forget released an update to her book Basic Income for Canadians, focused on the impact of the pandemic.
“To my mind, we will move toward the idea of the guaranteed income over the coming years,” she said. “I think that many of our programs are beginning to incorporate a lot of the ideas of basic income, and this has just been a real wake up call.”
Honouree Sharon Davis-Murdoch has also seen her work take on even further meaning during the pandemic. The co-founder of the Health Association of African Canadians has worked for decades to eliminate systemic inequities in the health-care system.
Social justice work is “in the blood,” and generations of her family have had “fire in the belly for justice,” she said.
“I am overwhelmed,” said Davis-Murdoch. “I am so humbled by this, but I’m also very grateful. It’s a beautiful thing to feel recognized and supported in in the work that one does.”
The crisis of the pandemic had reinforced a one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare, adding to the challenges of a situation where anti-Black racism and the legacy of other injustices are “part and parcel of the systems that we cope with and live in,” Davis-Murdoch said.
“And that is the antithesis of my work over the last 40 years, because I understand the importance of culturally specific approaches,” she said.
Research on how smoking policies affect health
Geoffrey Fong, founder of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project, has been appointed an officer of the Order of Canada for his efforts in improving and evaluating anti-smoking policies worldwide.
“After I got over the initial shock and surprise and kind of trying to orient myself … I thought immediately about our global research team over the past 20 years and how proud and honoured I was of our collective efforts to do research on the number-one preventable cause of death and disease,” Fong said. “Surprisingly for us in public health, [some people] believe that smoking is a problem that has already been dealt with.”
His organization helps provide evidence on tobacco policy and runs the first international cohort study on tobacco use.
Fong, who emigrated from the U.S. in 1988, said he felt especially honoured, given Canada is his adopted home.
He said he’s been proud to expand his work to lower and middle-income countries, where the vast majority of smoking-related deaths are expected to come in the next century.
Kindness amid chaos
Also honoured, as a member of the Order of Canada, is Lebanese-Canadian businessperson and philanthropist Mohamad Fakih, who owns the Paramount Fine Foods restaurant chain.
Fakih, who has grown his chain from a single shop in Mississauga to 80 locations worldwide and garnered headlines for his charitable acts such as distributing thousands of free meals to frontline workers during the pandemic, said he was especially honoured to be awarded by the country he came to “with nothing.”
“This is something that actually confirms someone’s legacy,” he said. “When the country that you came to for a better life and for yourself and your family, not only accepts you, not only celebrates you, but awards the highest honour.”
Fakih said hearing he was going to be joining the order is one of the unforgettable moments of his life along with others relating to providing for and setting a good example for his family.
“I couldn’t stop the tears, and I couldn’t stop smiling at the same time because I really always wanted to serve this country properly,” he said.
He said he was thankful to his team that has worked to help implement his vision.
“Even if I got the Order of Canada, a lot of people around me deserve to to celebrate with me.”
‘For Nunavut and for all of Canada’
Appointee Charlie Kakotok Evalik of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut contributed to the settlement of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and has worked in the resource industry and Inuit governance for decades, helping to implement the agreement.
He is recognized as the “chief negotiator and architect of social and economic development of Nunavut,” in Wednesday’s statement.
“I was humbled and pleasantly surprised,” he said, noting the appointment acknowledges “work we tried to do for a lot of years, not just for the Inuit, but for Nunavut and for all of Canada.”
Evalik said he hoped that the work he did to negotiate and implement the Nunavut agreement, as well as the honour of the Order of Canada, could serve as an example for younger generations.
“Education is still the key,” he said.
After being the only woman in her class at aviation college, then flying smaller aircraft for a few years, Judy Cameron was hired by Air Canada in 1978, becoming the first Canadian woman hired as a pilot by a national airline.
She is recognized for her “inspirational leadership” in blazing a trail for women in aviation.
Cameron said she thought she was hearing from the Governor General’s office in response to a request for a greeting for an awards gala she was organizing for the Northern Lights Aero Foundation. She was surprised to learn she herself was getting an award, but still asked if she could get that greeting.
“It seems evident throughout my whole career that in flying and also other areas, that perseverance is one of my finer points,” she said. “I don’t give up easily.”
She laughed, recalling times during her career that male colleagues would say they were open-minded to a woman pilot, but tell her their friends may not be as progressive.
“They’d say, I’ve never flown with a woman before,” she said. “I’d look at them and say ‘Neither have I.'”
Deborah Chatsis broke ground as the first First Nations woman to serve as an ambassador for Canada. During her diplomatic career, the newly appointed member of the order worked in several countries, including China, and served as ambassador to Vietnam and Guatemala, and as high commissioner for Belize.
She is recognized for her work as ambassador and for her “advocacy for human rights around the globe.”
Since her time as ambassador, Chatsis said the foreign service had made some progress in becoming more diverse and reflective of Canada in that “different regions, different ethnicities, different languages,” are now represented.
“This gets to the point where the foreign service begins to represent the face of Canada as a whole,” she said.
The Order of Canada
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon has appointed the following people, who were recommended for appointment by the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada:
Companions of the Order of Canada
- Yann Martel
- The Honourable Murray Sinclair
Officers of the Order of Canada
- Mehran Anvari
- Carl-Éric Aubin
- Neil Devindra Bissoondath
- Liona Boyd (This is a promotion within the order)
- Barry D. Bultz
- Pieter Cullis
- Navjeet Singh Dhillon
- The Honourable Lillian Eva Quan Dyck
- Connie J. Eaves
- The Honourable David Ross Fitzpatrick
- Geoffrey T. Fong
- Evelyn L. Forget
- The Honourable Justice Hugh L. Fraser
- Victoria Grant
- Margo Lainne Greenwood
- Frances Henry
- Tomson Highway (This is a promotion within the order)
- C. Céleste Johnston
- Vaikuntam Iyer Lakshmanan
- Frederick A. Leighton
- J. Roger Léveillé
- Patricia Livingston
- Alejandro G. Marangoni.
- Roderick R. McInnes (This is a promotion within the order)
- Donald Chisholm McKenzie
- Former national chief Ovide William Mercredi
- Jacques Yves Montplaisir
- Helene Polatajko
- Edward J. Ratushny
- Jean Riley Senft
- Graham David Sher
- Helga Stephenson
- Angela Swan
- Ian Tamblyn
- Carol M. Tator
- D. R. Fraser Taylor
- Louise Trottier
- Verena Tunnicliffe
- Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
Honorary Member of the Order of Canada
- Jackie Richardson (This is an honorary appointment)
Members of the Order of Canada
- Harold Bassford
- Francine Bois
- Mary Ruth Brooks
- Ann Buller
- Judy Cameron
- The Honourable Sandra Chapnik
- Deborah Chatsis
- Ralph Chiodo
- Lily Siewsan Chow
- Elder Ruth Christie
- Michael Patrick Collins
- Gail Cyr
- Sharon Davis-Murdoch
- Janis Dunning and Jacques Lemay
- Max T. Eisen
- Robert Eisenberg
- John Estacio
- Charlie Kakotok Evalik
- Mohamad Fakih
- Graham Farquharson
- Patricia M. Feheley
- Eleanor N. Fish
- Gerald Friesen
- Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl
- Janice R. Fukakusa
- Leo Joel Goldhar
- Morris Goodman
- Walter N. Hardy
- Lucille Harper
- Jane Heyman
- Jean Houde
- William Arthur Humber
- Lawson A. W. Hunter
- Kenneth W. Knox
- Vahan Kololian
- Olga Eliza Korper
- Marc Labrèche
- Gilbert Lacasse
- Yves Lambert
- Barbara Landau
- Gerald Andrew Edward Lawrence
- Pierre Legendre
- Jacques Lemay and Janis Dunning
- Rose Lipszyc
- Allan S. MacDonald
- Andrew Paul MacDonald
- Eric Ross Macdonald Haldenby
- Nona Macdonald Heaslip
- Joy Kathryn MacPhail
- Ginette Mantha
- Gregory Marchildon
- Elizabeth McGregor
- Robert Duff McKeown
- Pradeep Merchant
- Pamela J. Minns
- John Morrisseau
- Duff David Mostoway Roman
- Kevin Murphy
- Kathy Murphy
- Ralph Nilson
- Janice O’Born
- Eva Olsson
- Barbara A. Paterson
- Asger Rye Pedersen
- W. Roman Petryshyn
- Robin Poitras
- Lynn Posluns
- Alexander Reford
- Léo Robert
- Hazel Robinson
- John Robinson
- David Roche
- Reginald Schwager
- Harvey Lyon Secter
- Robert Irwin Silver
- Robert Small
- Barry Smit
- Diane Sowden
- Harriet H. Stairs
- Sharon Elizabeth Straus
- Barbara G. Stymiest
- Bruny Surin
- Curtis A. Suttle
- Cara Tannenbaum
- George M. Thomson
- Jean-Marie Toulouse
- Peter Vaughan
- Gilles Vincent
- Luc Vinet
- Janet Walker
- Vaughn Wyant
- Peter Zandstra
- David Zussman