Speech on the Occasion of a Presentation of Honours

September 17, 2021

Check against delivery

OTTAWA, Ontario —Good day, everyone. Hello and welcome.

Today, we stand on unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people, who have lived on and cared for this land for thousands of years.

We strive to honour the spirit of that statement every day by speaking the truth and by continuing our shared journey of reconciliation.

This place—Rideau Hall—is where Canadians come together in common cause to learn, to celebrate, to welcome, and to honour.

We confer three types of honours today.

Meritorious service decorations—both medals and crosses—applaud exceptional accomplishments in a range of fields, from humanitarian efforts, to community organization, to research and innovation.

The Canadian Bravery Decoration, which will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary, pays tribute to the courage of individuals who take action to save another from certain injury or death.

And the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers expresses our gratitude to those “unsung heroes and heroines” who have given freely of their time and effort over long—often decades-long—commitments to improving their communities for everyone.

These honours are tangible ways for the entire country to express our gratitude for the achievements of remarkable individuals and, even more importantly, the remarkable achievements of everyday people.

Each of the people being honoured today is united not out of their desire for recognition, but because they saw someone in distress and chose to act, or because they recognized a community need and chose to give.

You chose service. 

The pandemic has brought home to all Canadians the value of service to others.

Many of the actions we have been asked to take individually are as much or more for the benefit of other people as they are for ourselves.

You—the fourteen people our nation honours today—have certainly served others—either in a moment of decisive action or over a period of steadfast devotion.

For one young person in particular, that time was far, far too short.

You also show us that such service takes many forms.

As we will learn when the citations are read, service is as unique as the person who offers that helping hand.

While the pandemic may have made clear to us the value of this virtue, it is indeed timeless.

Almost four centuries ago, in the winter of 1623, English poet John Donne wrote that “no man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Although gender exclusive, Donne’s metaphor remains nonetheless crystal clear.

No person is truly alone—an island, entire of itself.

Each depends on the support of others.

We all therefore have a duty to serve however we can, to grasp a helping hand when in need, to be a part of the main.

For even longer, Indigenous peoples on this land have lived by the principle: Be a good relative.

Being a good relative is an inclusive practice: The members of any community—large or small—are considered relatives.

Not blood relatives necessarily but members of the same civic family.

Underpinning this idea is a very simple practice: serve each other. And, in doing so, improve the entire community, the larger family.

Today’s honourees have taken this abiding principle to heart and put it into action.

It is customary on occasions such as this to congratulate you.

I thank you.

On behalf of the Canadian family, I thank you for your heroic actions, for your steadfast devotion to your communities, for your selfless service to others. Thank you for being good relatives.

I also salute the people who nominated those we honour today.

A member from their communities made the case for each of the fourteen people we recognize.

These distinctions do not materialize from on high.
So I encourage people outside this room and beyond these walls to nominate a person in their respective communities.

Put forward someone whose heroism astounds, whose selflessness inspires, whose devotion to fairness or commitment to excellence impresses.

Nominate someone from our Canadian collective family whose extraordinary actions bring honour to us all—just as the service of these fourteen good relatives has done.

Thank you.