My Order of Canada still includes Steve Fonyo

Steve Fonyo, disabled runner, in happier times. Below: Conrad Moffat Black, centre, arguably departing from generally recognized standards of public behaviour during the Calgary Herald strike; Steve Fonyo, more recently; Terry Fox.

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.

7 Comments on "My Order of Canada still includes Steve Fonyo"

  1. Art says:

    I agree completely.

    The fact that Fonyo is imperfect actually increases my respect for his accomplishments. It makes those accomplishments all the more remarkable. He's an ordinary guy who did something extraordinary. We don't have to approve of his criminal convictions to appreciate his contributions to Canada.

    All this I considered when I heard the news, I hadn't even considered the Conrad Black angle until reading your post.

    Really, who has done more to make this a great country? There's no question in my mind.

  2. Anonymous says:

    And let us not forget that 'his lordship' voluntarily revoked his Canadian citizenship so that he could become a Lord which was apparently more important to him than being a Canadian. Paul Victoria, BC

  3. Joan says:

    I agree. As someone wrote to the editor of our local newspaper, "You don't take the Victoria Cross from a veteran who becomes an alcoholic and is charged with being drunk and disorderly. Nor should you take the Order of Canada from Steve Fonyo. Once a hero – always a hero."

  4. Anonymous says:

    Stephen Fonyo did not so much complete the run started by Terry Fox as ride in on his coat tails. Terry had, by force of personality and perseverance, captured the imagination of a nation. But Terry did this only after months of being ignored by the media. Terry became recognised because he kept going despite all obstacles, particularly being virtually ignored except at the very local area where he was running through. Terry also practised for his run and was in great physical shape.

    Stephen Fonyo was in poor shape (look at any photo from the start of his run) and only took over from Where Terry left off. During his run there were many allegations of his cheating (yes, there were early allegations that Terry cheated too). Stephen never had the same public persona of a Terry Fox and the money he raised was more a reflection on Terry's accomplishments’ that Stephen's. The only similarities were they both lost a leg to cancer.

    At the end of the day Stephen's run was not needed and was much more of a stunt for personal gratification and media attention. The run was not unique and I believe any attention was not earned in the first place. All Fonyo did was start where Terry was forced by ill health to stop and run the second half. In any case Terry’s run could not be completed and should have been left unfinished as it was only Terry’s to finish.

    In my mind Terry’s run remains unfinished and is more poignant as a result.

    But I am not deciding who gets the medals. So if the medal was earned then Fonyo should keep it. I think the question about the Conrad Black's and Garth Drabinsky and others orders need to hinge on the same logic – If they earned it they get to keep it, so let’s make sure future orders are well and truly earned before being presented.

  5. Anonymous says:

    As Steve's soon to be wife I'd like to thank everyone for all their support during this trying time for Steve again. To keep you up dated Steve is getting better everyday. One day at a time as they say. and I'd just like to say to all the people that have done nothing but put him down all these years. Why don't you go out and raise millions of dollars for the charity of your choice?? I'm sure they would appreciate the donation

    Again thanks for all the support
    Lisa G

  6. Anonymous says:

    Lisa, thumbs up to Steve and you. I'm sorry to hear of the hardships Steve has had. He is still a hero for what he has done for research.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I have nothing but contempt for the current Governor-General's actions of late, at the taxpayer's expense. Not the least is to have revoked the Order of Canada from Steve Fonyo. Despite Mr. Fonyo's difficult life challenges, he has by his actions performed a great contribution and service to Canada's people. Since when does Canada, as a country unfairly remove those honours for commendable achievements of its citizens? Shame on the Governor General, the current government and the Canadian people for allowing this to occur.

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