Yesterday was a day of celebration for monarchists and those of us who closely study the world of Honours and Orders. For on his visit to Canada yesterday, The Duke of Edinburgh was invested as the first Extra Companion of the Order of Canada and a Commander of the Order of Military Merit.
Perhaps unknown to most readers, these are Canada’s highest orders. Today’s presentation would not otherwise be overly newsworthy, but the long journey that led to today’s presentation is one which is worthy of note. For, until now, The elderly Duke had received substantive honours from both Australia and New Zealand but, surprisingly, not from Canada, arguably the most monarchist of Commonwealth realms.
Whether by pure coincidence, the decision followed a national media campaign which some of us had launched earlier this year to try to influence the Government and garner public support. .
The Duke of Edinburgh is the oldest member of the Royal Family to have travelled to Canada and, after Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the second oldest member of the Royal Family to have left the shores of the UK. Such is HRH’s devotion to Canada, The Duke has travelled to the Great White North more than any other member of the Royal Family.
Considering his unparalleled dedication to Canada, it seem only natural that Canada should honour His Royal Highness with the nation’s highest honour. However, it will come as a surprise to many that a man who has been decorated by Australia, New Zealand and unmpteen countries around the world has, until now, not received a grand Canadian honour.
The reasons for this are complex. Until recently, the statutes of the Order of Canada that determined eligibility for the Order of Canada were limited to Canadian citizens. The powers-that-be determined that aside from the The Queen, who, as head of state, is the fount from which citizenship and honour flows, members of her family are simply Britons and therefore ineligible.
This contrasts starkly with the far more enlightened approach adopted by the Honours Secretariats of New Zealand and Australia, which, for certain honours, have a special class of membership for members of the Royal Family. New Zealand, the model for all Commonwealth Realms, also permits the granting of honours upon citizens of Commonwealth realms around the world — a tremendous statement of dedication and belief in the importance of our great family of nations.
By contrast, in Canada, the Duke was regarded as foreign, despite the fact that he was the spouse of The Queen of Canada, the father of the future King of Canada, a Privy Councillor of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Admiral of the Canadian Navy, General of the Canadian Army, General of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Admiral of the Canadian Sea Cadets and the Colonel-in-Chief of numerous Canadian Regiments. Surely anyone with a modicum of intelligence would regard this as supremely odd. Consequently, although many patriotic Canadians wanted HRH to receive Canada’s highest honour, they were told that the Statutes of the Order prevented this. HRH would have to be content with the “honorary” status granted to Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa, rather than the “substantive” membership accorded to Canadians. The Duke, proud of his Canadian connections, found this unacceptable and consequently, in 1982, he politely declined the offer of honorary membership.
The message was clear: the poorly drafted statutes of the Order of Canada needed to be amended. Statutes in New Zealand create a separate substantive class of “Extraordinary” members for members of the Royal Family (viz. Duke of Edinburgh, Extra Companion of the Queen’s Service Order and Additional Member of the Order of New Zealand). Similarly, Australians had no problem conferring Australian substantive honours upon members of their Royal Family (viz The Prince of Wales, Knight of the Order of Australia, Duke of Edinburgh, Commander of the Order of Australia)
For whatever reason, in 2000, on the occasion of her 100th Birthday Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was presented with “Honorary” Membership in the Order of Canada (an honour reserved for non-Canadians such as Nelson Mandela). At the time, many commentators felt is strangely odd, that Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Queen Consort of King George VI of Canada, mother of Queen Elizabeth II of Canada, mother of the Sovereign of the Order of Canada, and, in her own right, colonel-in-chief of various Canadian regiments should be deemed foreign. More bizarrely, the presentation of the insignia of an “honorary” member of the Order was presented by the Governor General of Canada — when it would surely have been more appropriate to have HM The Queen, Sovereign of the Order of Canada, present the insignia to her mother. What a touching sight that would have been. Nevertheless, as peculiar as many thought it to be, the event was a success and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was deeply impressed.
However, as far as we know, the views of the Duke of Edinburgh remained unchanged. A group of us realised that unless the statutes of the Order were amended to enable the appointment of members of the Royal Family as substantive “Extra Companions” or “Royal Companions”, there would be little chance that he would accept membership. The idealists amongst us, would have liked to see Canada follow the New Zealand model and open the honours system to citizens of Commonwealth Realms.
Supporters of the Crown agreed that, as there was every chance that this might be the last trip that HRH might make to Canada, it was imperative that steps be taken immediately to try to rectify this omission. We suspected that senior government officials might also share our concern; but we felt that there would be no harm in involving the media as it could create a groundswell of public expectation and anticipation. “Will he or won’t he?” — which would make the actual presentation all the more eagerly anticipated and exciting. It could become “an event”.
An Editorial was duly published in the Globe and Mail calling for the Duke to be invested with the Order of Canada. As a Canadian, and also the editor of Burke’s World Orders of Knighthood & Merit (the definitive guide to National Orders) I immediately followed this up with my own letter. I then hoped that these two pieces would be brought to the attention of people at the highest levels of government so that, if they had not been seriously considering the issue before, this might now give them pause for thought.
We are therefore delighted that this staunchly-monarchist Government, which has done so much to ensure that Canadians fully understand and appreciate the importance of the Crown in our political and cultural life, have seen fit to provide The Duke of Edinburgh with the highest honours they could possibly bestow. The Canadian Government’s efforts to ensure that the Canadian Monarchy returns to the heart of national life, helping to ensure that Canadians appreciate the vital role that it has to play at the centre of our understanding of Canadian national identity, are worthy of the greatest praise. We celebrate them for that. I do not know whether the media campaign we launched had any impact on the ultimate decision to confer the Orders upon HRH but, ultimately, that is meaningless. For we simply rejoice in the fact that The Canadian Government have brought its honours policy in line with those of Australia, New Zealand and the UK and, most importantly, now acknowledge that the Royal Family is Canadian.
– Rafe Heydel-Mankoo