Never let it be said that Stephen Fonyo Jr., who was stripped of his Order of Canada last Dec. 10, did not render a useful service to his country for which he continues to deserve respect, warts and all.
Bigger scoundrels than the troubled, occasionally violent, often pathetic, tragicomic, one-legged long-distance runner remain members of that tarnished order.
In a brisk news release yesterday, Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who apparently had found a few moments from her busy schedule proroguing Parliament to prevent democratic debate inconvenient to our prime minister, announced that according to the rules of the Order, Mr. Fonyo had been given the bum’s rush last month for having been convicted of a criminal offense.
Indeed, the release implied without quite stating, that Mr. Fonyo, now 44, had been found to be a thoroughgoing rounder for departing “from generally recognized standards of public behaviour.”
Well, yes, Mr. Fonyo, who when he was 12 lost a leg to cancer, had since he was made an Officer of the Order in 1985 recorded a history of bad behaviour that included assault, aggravated assault, theft, fraud, drunk driving and driving without a license.
But don’t forget as well that Mr. Fonyo ran across Canada in 1984 on one good leg and one artificial one – following and completing the route of the saintly, cranky and doomed Terry Fox – and in the process raised $13 million for cancer research.
This was no small feat for an ordinary man with a serious disability and Mr. Fonyo – bad judgment, substance abuse and all – deserved his Order of Canada. What’s more, given at least one of the ne’er-do-wells who remain members in good standing of that order, he deserves to be one still.
I speak, of course, of Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, citizen of the United Kingdom and frequent reviler of his native Canada, its citizens and their to-him unfortunate tendency toward decency, fairness and common sense in economic matters.
In July 2007, Mr. Black was, in the words of the Governor General’s news release about Mr. Fonyo, “convicted of a criminal offense” in a courtroom in Chicago. Indeed, like Mr. Fonyo, he was convicted of more than one. He resides, as of this date, in the Federal Correctional Complex near Coleman, Fla.
Moreover, it would be a fair comment based on the conduct of his business affairs in both the United States and Canada (including his practice of labour relations in the province of Alberta) to observe that Mr. Black deviated “from generally recognized standards of public behaviour.”
Nevertheless, the still-well-connected Mr. Black remains on the list of members of the Order of Canada, windily honoured on the Governor General’s Website as “a distinguished Toronto entrepreneur and publisher … a man of diverse achievements within the realms of Canadian commerce, education, literature and the arts.”
For her part, the Governor General has maintained a dignified silence on the suitability of Mr. Black for membership in the order since his conviction.
So, you might wonder, how can a felon convicted of mail fraud and obstruction of justice in a neighbouring democracy who famously renounced his Canadian citizenship remain part of the Order of Canada while a petty criminal with an addiction problem who nevertheless rendered a significant service to his country cannot?
A clue may be found in the Governor General’s recent statement: “The termination of Mr. Fonyo’s membership in the Order of Canada,” this document explained, “is related to his multiple criminal convictions, for which there are no outstanding appeals.” (Emphasis added.)
Ah, appeals. Of course, the conviction of the unappealing Mr. Black remains constantly under appeal. In fact, the United States Supreme Court heard Mr. Black’s appeal two days before Mr. Fonyo was kicked out of the Order. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on that matter next June or July.
No one in the Canadian mainstream media seems to have tried to speak with Mr. Fonyo about this. Perhaps they were otherwise occupied editing one of Mr. Black’s most excellent columns on the future of the Royal family in Canada or U.S. President Barack Obama’s many shortcomings. Or maybe they were simply too busy exchanging emails with the talkative felon.
Regardless of the reason, as a result of this oversight we can only imagine how Mr. Fonyo feels about his expulsion from the Order. Quite beaten down, one imagines. Possibly without friends, or hope. And, of course, most likely unable to afford an appeal.