B.C. priest returning Order of Canada over Morgentaler

A B.C. priest who worked with troubled youths in Saskatchewan is returning his Order of Canada after learning that Dr. Henry Morgentaler has been awarded the same honour.

Priest was convicted of assaulting 2 children in 1992, later pardoned

Rev. Lucien Larré is returning his Order of Canada because of his objection to abortion activist Henry Morgentaler receiving the same honour. ((Richard Lam/Canadian Press))

A B.C. priest who worked extensively with troubled teenagers in Saskatchewan is returning his Order of Canada after learning that abortion crusader Dr. Henry Morgentaler has been awarded the same honour.

Rev. Lucien Larré said he means no disrespect to the Governor General, but said he must return the Order of Canada because Morgentaler's appointment degrades the award for those who believe in the sanctity of life.

"I feel in my conscience that Dr. Morgentaler was not appropriate because there are too many people in Canada who are against him and do not see him as a model or an inspiration," Larré said Thursday.

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean named Morgentaler as a member of the order on Tuesday for his services to women and for leadership in the fields of humanism and civil liberties. The appointment was made on the advice of the Order of Canada selection committee.

Larré, who lives in the Vancouver-area city of Coquitlam, said he isn't acting as a representative of the Archdiocese of Vancouver in his rejection of the Order of Canada, but as a private citizen struggling with a matter of conscience.

"Sometimes, life is difficult, and a person has to make decisions according to their conscience and you have to draw a line in the sand, and I did that," he said.

Registration as psychologist suspended in 2006

Larré has come under fire in British Columbia, where he practised psychology from 1998 until 2006, when his registration as a member of the College of Psychologists of British Columbia was suspended following an investigation into complaints about his competence.

The nature of the complaints has never been revealed, but Larré has promised not to practise psychology in B.C.

Larré said at a news conference that he offers "spiritual and educational" counselling.

"I don't work as a psychologist. I just work as an educational consultant. I can help people with things exactly like I did before I had my doctorate," he said.

But outside Larré's Coquitlam office Thursday, Jemma McKenzie told CBC News she was there for "psychology counselling for my children."

Convicted of assault in 1992

Larré was also a controversial figure in Saskatchewan, a province he left in the 1990s.

He opened the Bosco Homes in Regina for teenagers with emotional troubles and addictions in 1970, drawing praise for his dedication to helping those in need. His work earned him the Order of Canada in 1983, when he was cited for succeeding "beyond measure in restoring the lost to their rightful place in society."

But in 1992, a Saskatchewan jury convicted him of two counts of physically abusing children in his care at Bosco, according to Canwest News Service. Canwest said one of his convictions centred on the accusation that Larré forced pills down the throat of a teenager to teach her a lesson about drug abuse.

He was sentenced to one day in jail and paid a $2,500 fine, but in 1997, the National Parole Board of Canada pardoned him and erased the convictions against him, Canwest said.

Morgentaler fought to legalize abortion

Some Order of Canada recipients have said they feel no reason to protest Morgentaler's appointment. Former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen, who was made a member on the same day as Morgentaler, said he respects the Supreme Court of Canada's decision to legalize abortion, and would not consider rejecting his award. 

Dr. Henry Morgentaler was named a member of the Order of Canada on Monday. ((J.P. Moczulski/Canadian Press))

"It's a great privilege, I'm deeply honoured, and I think the tradition works beautifully and it should be carried on," he said. "We should move on from Dr. Morgentaler. We're just making a huge deal out of this."

Morgentaler, a Polish Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Montreal after the Second World War, struggled for decades to have abortion legalized in Canada.

He opened his first illegal abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969 and performed thousands of procedures. A trained family physician, Morgentaler argued that access to abortion was a basic human right and women should not have to risk death at the hands of an untrained professional in order to end their pregnancies.

His abortion clinics were constantly raided, and one in Toronto was firebombed. Morgentaler was arrested several times and spent months in jail as he fought his case at all court levels in Canada.

On Jan. 28, 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s abortion law. That law, which required a woman who wanted an abortion to appeal to a three-doctor hospital abortion committee, was declared unconstitutional.

Canada now has no federal laws governing abortion, and leaves regulation of the procedure up to individual provinces.

With files from the Canadian Press