A tale of two awards: Reflecting on Henry Morgentaler’s Order of Canada

A tale of two awards

Reflecting on Henry Morgentaler’s Order of Canada

It happened in Ottawa, our nation’s capital; one event June 11, the other July 1.

Two awards were announced, one to a young man, the other to an older man.

Nathan Klassen received a master’s degree in international affairs at Carleton University.

Henry Morgentaler was appointed to the Order of Canada by the Governor General on Canada Day.

The young man’s award ceremony was attended by proud parents, family, and friends. The honours handed out at the university that day were greeted with shouts of joy and hand-clapping.

One couple had travelled all the way from Grand Forks, B.C. to attend the graduation of their son. To say we were proud, grateful parents is an understatement. Yes, my wife and I were that couple.

The older man was named a member of the Order of Canada, an honour that is supposed to represent the height of service to the community.

This award was greeted with delight by some, but with shock, dismay, disgust, disbelief, sadness, and, in some cases, anger by many others.

The young man has a passion to make a difference in our world by seeking to alleviate poverty, especially for those who are living on less than one dollar a day. He has already entered a profession that is leading in that direction.

The older man has made a difference in this world by bringing untold pain and suffering to unborn children, and to mothers and fathers.

One is concerned about saving life; the other has been destroying life.

One is seeking – with God’s help – to bring renewed hope and life to many; the other has been playing god.

Poet and singer King David wrote and prayed these words many centuries ago and they are still true today:

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:13-16, NLT).

A tale of two awards. We are so thankful that our son’s birth mother chose life over death for her child. You see, our son is adopted.

Henry P. Klassen is pastor of Gospel Chapel in Grand Forks, B.C. 



The Order of Canada

The Order of Canada is the centrepiece of Canada’s honours system. It recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation. All Canadians are eligible to be nominated to the Order (except politicians and judges while in office) for contributions in any section of Canadian society. Officers and Members may be elevated within the Order in recognition of further achievement, based on continued exceptional service to Canada. The order is not awarded posthumously.

There are three levels of award: Companion, Officer, and Member. Companion is the highest honour with 15 appointments per year to a maximum of 165 living recipients. Sixty-four officers are appointed per year. Member, the lowest office, receives 136 appointments for distinguished service in or to a particular community, group, or field of activity.—www.gg.ca/honours

Responses to Henry Morgentaler’s appointment

The Canadian Ministries Office of the Christian Reformed Church is urging its constituent churches to act in love and respect as they respond to Henry Morgentaler’s membership in the Order of Canada. Political leaders report that the most vicious correspondence they received on the abortion issue came from professing Christians, says a letter to CRC Church Councils in Canada.

—CRC release

The Evangelical Mennonite Conference sent a formal letter to the Governor General of Canada, thanking her for her work but registering concern about Morgentaler’s award. They recognized the difficult situations that lead women to seek abortions but highlighted their belief in the sanctity of life, ending by requesting the award be reconsidered.

—The Messenger

Ralph Mayan, president of the Lutheran Church – Canada, released a strongly worded statement, calling Morgentaler’s award an “insult to Canada and all who respect the sanctity of life.” He noted the Order has been revoked in previous cases, and suggested such an action be considered in Morgentaler’s case.


An online petition calling for Morgentaler’s Order of Canada to be rescinded garnered more than 2,000 signatures within 24 hours of its launch. As of August 7, the petition had 15,746 signatures.


The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada released a statement to the Governor General and to the National Post protesting Morgentaler’s appointment. President Bruce Clemenger expressed disappointment, saying “the narrow interests of some and the misguided judgment of others have diminished Canada’s highest civilian honour.”


Gerald Vandezande of the national Christian social action organization, Citizens for Public Justice, and Member of the Order of Canada does not contest the award because there is no question Morgentaler “has been an influential, albeit controversial figure in Canadian life.” He suggested recognition of someone’s work does not necessarily mean endorsement of that person’s ideology.

—B.C. Christian News

There were two votes against Morgentaler on the nine-member independent advisory committee that decides appointments to the Order of Canada. The doctor had been nominated several times before, most notably in the mid-1990s, when concerns were raised about his eligibility.


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