The Canadian Honours System

The Administration of Canadian Honours

Chapters 2 and 3 of A-AD-200-000/AG-000 - Honours, Flags and Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces describes the CF Honours System (Note: These chapters were authorized and published after the development of the Honours and Awards on-line application process).

All Canadian national honours and their criteria are personally approved by the Sovereign, The Queen of Canada. A national honours policy exists to guide the development of the system:

Questions on existing honours for serving members of the Canadian Forces and for long service and good conduct awards to retired service members may be addressed to Directorate of Honours and Recognition (DH&R).

Questions on the administration of war and campaign honours for veterans of the First and Second World Wars and the Korean Conflict (less the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for Korea, which is managed by the Chancellery) may be addressed to Veterans Affairs Canada, Honours and Awards Section.

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The Evolution of Canadian Military Honours (Orders, Decorations and Medals)

At the beginning of this century Canada was a self-governing dominion within the British Empire. As the country evolved into an independent state, suggestions for the development of its own honours system grew. However, there was little early incentive to move beyond the simple policy decision that Canadian citizens could not accept knighthood or similar British honours which granted aristocratic titles. British orders, decorations and medals, from the lowest awards to the Victoria Cross, continued to be used, including during wars, when Canadian contingents formed part of deployed British forces.

Limited steps towards creating Canadian Military honours were taken in the middle of this century, beginning with a few unique medals during the Second World War. After the war, a common medal for military long service and exemplary conduct was created, the Canadian Forces Decoration. This was followed by a special campaign medal for service in Korea, a uniquely Canadian version of the Commonwealth's award issued at the behest of our government.

The watershed in the conversion to national honours occurred with the Centennial of Confederation in 1967. Initial awards created at that time were followed by a deliberate expansion of the Canadian honours system in 1972. Since then, practice, experience and study have led to continued growth in the national system for recognizing the merit and deeds of those who serve Canada.

One guiding principle for military honours is that proposals for new awards are always made in consultation with the Canadian Forces, which are regularly consulted on such issues. That is, the views of those who would actually qualify for and be honoured by each award are given great weight. A Canadian Forces Honours Committee, representing all components of the Forces, studies these matters in depth and is careful to maintain the high standards established in the past.

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Foreign Honours to Canadians

Canadian policy requires Government approval before an order, decoration or medal can be awarded to one of its citizens. Otherwise, Canada will not recognize the honour, and it cannot be worn with national honours or on a Canadian Forces (CF) uniform.

The policy has been described to all diplomatic missions accredited to Canada (Foreign Affairs Circular Note No. XDC-0678, 31 March, 2005), and is outlined in A-AD-200-000/AG-000, Chap 2, with further military instructions.

Although the policy requires approval before an award, requests after the fact which explain the presentation circumstances may be considered.

The Sovereign is the fount of all Canadian honours. Therefore, foreign honours must emanate from a similar level, a head of state or government, to be recognized. Awards originating by some other or lower authority are regarded as private honours can be accepted as private mementoes only. Except for courtesy reasons at the moment of presentation, they cannot be worn with national honours or on a CF uniform.

Canada will only approve honours which recognize meritorious activity. Canada does not engage in exchanges of honours, nor give or receive honours based solely on an individual's status.

Canadian protocol differentiates between orders and decorations (which recognize individual meritorious activity), and campaign and service medals (which recognize honourable participation in some group activity).

Canada does not approve foreign orders and decorations for the normal performance of paid government duty. Thus, requests to award foreign honours to public employees, military or civilian, must explain why the activity to be recognized was outside the paid duties or beyond the norm expected of the individual's rank and experience. Each such request is assessed individually.

For campaign and service medals, a request is assessed on a group basis for all who qualify for the honour. If the request is approved, the decision will guide future requests for the medal.

Nothing in this policy applies to foreign honours properly presented to a country's own citizens. However, after immigration, a Canadian citizen can only wear foreign honours in accordance with Canadian protocol, ie, the honours must emanate from a head of state or government.

Requests to award foreign honours to Canadians must be submitted to the Canadian Honours Policy Sub-Committee through normal diplomatic channels. Further information can be obtained from:

Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Deputy Chief of Protocol
Ottawa, Canada
K1A 0G2
(613) 996-4039
FAX (613) 943-1075.

Policy information can be obtained from The Chancellery, Government House or from National Defence Headquarters through the chain of command (for military guidance, as noted in A-AD-200-000/AG-000, Chap 2).