Canada

Disgraced Ahenakew to lose Order of Canada honour

The council that admits people into the Order of Canada has begun the process of revoking the membership of former aboriginal leader David Ahenakew, who awaits a judge's ruling on a hate crime charge.

The council that admits people into the Order of Canada has begun the process of revoking the membership of former aboriginal leader David Ahenakew, who awaits a judge's ruling on a hate crime charge.

Lucie Brosseau said Ahenakew was sent a letter on June 30 informing him that the Order of Canada advisory council is considering his removal.

"The letter offered Mr. Ahenakew the option of resigning voluntarily from the order or of responding to the council," she said.

Brosseau said that Ahenakew has not yet replied and has until Saturday to do so before the process moves ahead.

Two and a half years ago, Ahenakew told a reporter that the Holocaust was a good thing and praised Adolf Hitler for having "fried" six million Jews during the Second World War.

He later apologized, but was charged with inciting hatred. A judge is due to hand down a verdict in the case Friday.

The December 2002 comments outraged Canadian Jewish groups, which began the campaign to strip Ahenakew of his Order of Canada honour.

Hundreds of people called and wrote the Governor General's office to press for the membership to be revoked.

"The Order of Canada is a means by which we honour people," said Ed Morgan, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "It seems to me that, given the words that Ahenakew said, there's no reason for Canadian society to honour him the way the order suggests."

Morgan added that he does not believe the comments reflect the views of the aboriginal community.

Ahenakew was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1978, four years before beginning a three-year term as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

The current chief, Phil Fontaine, said the assembly has in the past rejected Ahenakew's comments, calling them abhorrent and unacceptable.

However, Fontaine said Wednesday that he does not have an opinion about the decision to revoke Ahenakew's appointment.

"We had nothing to do with the award," he said at the assembly's annual meeting in Yellowknife, N.W.T. "There's a process for that, and I understand the process is in motion and that the order will be revoked."

Alphonse Bird is chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, another group that Ahenakew once headed.

While the comments about Jews were racist and unacceptable, Bird said, "we also need to look at some of the achievements that were made in providing focus on First Nations rights, which happened during his tenure as FSIN chief and also as national chief."

Only one other person's membership in the Order of Canada has ever been revoked: that of Alan Eagleson, who once headed the National Hockey League Players Association but was later convicted of fraud.

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