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Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond dropped from the Order of Canada

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond asked that her membership in the Order of Canada be terminated.

Photo: British Columbia Civil Liberties Association


The former judge faced controversy over her claims to Indigenous ancestry

Prominent scholar and former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been dropped from the Order of Canada.

In a notice in Saturday's Canada Gazette, Rideau Hall announced that, in response to Turpel-Lafond's own request, her membership in the Order of Canada has been terminated. That request was subsequently approved by Governor General Mary Simon through an ordinance signed on Sept. 26, 2023.

The termination takes effect Saturday.

Turpel-Lafond was plunged into controversy in October 2022 after an investigation by CBC News (new window) raised questions about her claims to indigenous ancestry.

Responding by text to CBC News, Turpel-Lafond said she returned the Order of Canada to avoid harassment.

I returned it because I don't want to be harassed by people who seem to make it their thing to kick others down, she wrote. Life is too precious to give haters a seat at my table.

When the Governor General announced Turpel-Lafond's appointment to the Order of Canada in December 2021, the news release said she was being honored for her ongoing commitment to improving the child welfare system and supports for Indigenous people in British Columbia.

Turpel-Lafond was also awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

On Friday, those two honours were still listed in Rideau Hall's honours database, but the Order of Canada was not.

Officials at Rideau Hall provided little additional detail about the process that led to the honour being terminated.

As indicated in the Gazette, the appointment of Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to the Order of Canada was terminated as a result of her individual request, wrote Gabrielle Boaknin Savard in an e-mail. We have no additional information to provide as the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General does not comment on termination requests.

Natalie Babin Dufresne, director of communications at Rideau Hall, said they don't have any information regarding the Jubilee medals.

Commemorative medals can be cancelled if a person's conduct is not in line with the eligibility criteria, she wrote. Please note that commemorative medals were distributed by partner organizations that were identified to nominate individuals from their community or their organization. Each partner established their own selection process to nominate individuals for this medal.

The termination of Turpel-Lafond's appointment to the Order of Canada is the latest in a series of similar cancellations — many of them at Turpel-Lafond's own request.

In February, the University of Regina rescinded the honorary doctorate it had awarded her.

While the university recognizes that Turpel-Lafond has been a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and child welfare, her accomplishments are outweighed by the harm inflicted upon Indigenous academics, peoples and communities when non-Indigenous people misrepresent their Indigenous ancestry, the university said in a media statement.

In March, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association rescinded the Reg Robson award it gave Turpel-Lafond in 2020. In a statement, it said the association had believed in her public representations regarding her professional accomplishments, as well as her Indigenous ancestry.

Information has since come to BCCLA's attention that demonstrates, in our view, that Dr. Turpel-Lafond falsified her claims to Cree ancestry, the association wrote. Furthermore, certain professional and academic accomplishments claimed by Dr. Turpel-Lafond have been disproven or called into question, all of which, in our view, erode her professional integrity.

Turpel-Lafond has voluntarily returned honorary degrees she received from a number of universities, including Vancouver Island University, Royal Roads, Brock University and St. Thomas University in Fredericton.

Tracey Robinson of the Indigenous Women's Collective, which has called for Turpel-Lafond's honours to be stripped, welcomed the news that her Order of Canada was being terminated.

It's precedent-setting, she said in a phone interview from Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. It sends a message that this type of conduct is not going to be tolerated or considered acceptable in any way.

Elizabeth Thompson (new window) · CBC News