Canadian Honours and Awards bestowed upon members of the Canadian Forces

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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,
Queen of Canada, wearing Her insignia
of Sovereign of the Order of Canada
and of the Order of Military Merit

The purpose of this guide is to provide a brief outline of the conditions of eligibility as well as images of the Canadian honours and awards that are available to members of the Canadian Forces (CF). The intent is that this booklet will be used as an aide-mémoire for commanders at all levels to help them make recommendations for appropriate honours and awards in a timely manner for the personnel under their authority. The content is limited to Canadian military awards. Other awards, mainly those awarded to civilians as well as those emanating from the United Nations, NATO and other international missions have not been included in the scope of this publication. The information provided should only be viewed as general guidelines. For more detailed information and exact criteria, the reader should consult the various references listed at the end of this booklet. The honours and awards are presented in logical groupings; the correct order of wear being printed at the end of this publication.

Since very ancient times, it has been customary to recognize military valour, bravery or meritorious service by the award of trophies, badges, insignia or medals. Throughout the last three centuries, Canadians have been presented with awards from the French Regime and the British Empire, indigenous Canadian honours being a relatively recent innovation. Gradually, Canada began to create its own awards and the turning point was the creation of the Order of Canada in 1967. The system started to expand in 1972 to become the wide-ranging system we now know.

The modern Canadian honours system recognizes outstanding achievements, gallantry in combat, bravery and service to Crown and country. In Canada, all honours emanate from Her Majesty The Queen and are divided into three main categories:

Orders are societies of merit, which recognize outstanding achievement and exceptional service over the course of a career or a life. Orders usually have different levels or grades of membership and the distinction is made with differences in the insignia associated to the various levels or in the way they are worn. An order being a society of merit, one is not awarded an order but admitted into it and, where subsequent service justifies it, one may be promoted within the order. As it is a membership, a person can resign from an order or be expulsed if that person failed to respect the principle of honour.

Decorations recognize one act of gallantry in combat, or of bravery or meritorious service in a single event or over a specific period of time. A decoration is only awarded once to an individual; if further actions meet the criteria for the same decoration, a bar is awarded to be worn on the initial decoration in order to denote a second award.

Medals recognize participation in a campaign or operation, service under exceptional circumstances, commemorate royal or national anniversaries or recognize long and loyal service. Bars may also be awarded to campaign or service medals to specify the service being recognized and on long service awards to denote additional periods of eligible service.

The Sovereign is the fount of all honours and the Governor General, with advice from the Privy Council, acts on her behalf in Canada. National honours are administered by the Chancellery of Honours on behalf of the Government of Canada and the Directorate of History and Heritage manages the honours programs for members of the CF on behalf of the Chancellery of Honours. It should be noted that there is a five-year limit following an action to submit a nomination for most individual awards (Military Valour Decorations, Meritorious Service Decorations, Mentions in Dispatches, Commendations, etc.) but the limit is two years for Bravery Decorations. Similarly, the creation of a medal to recognize an operation will not be considered if the proposal is made more than five years after the end of the operation.

In Canada, the appointment to orders and the awarding of decorations and medals do not confer any special privileges such as titles, political influence or monetary benefits. Honours only give the recipient the right to wear the appropriate insignia and, in the case of orders and decorations only, the right to use the associated post nominal letters and display the insignia in the individual’s personal coat of arms.

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The Order of Military Merit

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson,
C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D., Governor General and
Commander-in-Chief of Canada congratulates
Chief Warrant Officer M. Lorraine Shirley, M.M.M., C.D.,
after having presented her with the insignia of
Member of the Order of Military Merit at Rideau Hall,
11 June 2004.

The Order of Military Merit was established in 1972 to provide a means of recognizing conspicuous merit and exceptional service by members of the CF both Regular and Reserve. Her Majesty The Queen is the Sovereign of the Order, the Governor General is the Chancellor and the Chief of the Defence Staff is the Principal Commander. The motto of the Order is OFFICIUM ANTE COMMODUM which means “Service before self ”. There are three levels of membership in the Order of Military Merit: Member, Officer and Commander, the latter being the highest. The number of appointments made annually is the equivalent of 0.1% of the total strength of the CF in the preceding year. Of that number, 6% will be Commanders, 30% will be Officers and 64% will be Members. Nominations coming from the chain of command are considered once a year by the Advisory Committee of the Order of Military Merit, which makes its recommendations to the Chief of the Defence Staff who in turn passes the recommendations to the Governor General for final approval on behalf of The Queen. The investitures take place at Rideau Hall twice yearly where the Governor General presents the members with the insignia of their membership in the Order. Members of foreign armed forces may be appointed honorary members of the Order.

Officers of the Order of Military Merit

(top): Sovereign, (left): Chancellor,
(right): Principal Commander

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada and Founding Sovereign of the Order of Military Merit


Principal Commanders

General Hillier, Chief of the Defence
Staff and Principal Commander of
the Order of Military Merit

Insignia of the Order of Military Merit

Commander C.M.M. Officer O.M.M. Member M.M.M.

Commanders of the Order are appointed for outstanding meritorious service while fulfilling duties of great responsibility. This has been interpreted to mean that only flag and general officers are eligible to be appointed as Commanders.

The Seal of the Order of Military Merit

Officers of the Order are appointed for outstanding meritorious service while fulfilling duties of responsibility. This has been interpreted to mean that only officers in the ranks of Major or Lieutenant-Commander to Colonel or Captain (N) are eligible to be appointed as Officers.

Members of the Order are appointed for exceptional service or performance of duty. This has been interpreted to mean that Non-Commissioned Members (NCMs), Warrant Officers, Petty Officers, and Commissioned Officers up to the rank of Captain or Lieutenant (N) are eligible to be appointed as Members.

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The Military Valour Decorations

On a ridge in the mountains east of Gardez, Afghanistan, on
15 March 2002, members of C Company, the 3rd Battalion,
Princess Patrica’s Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI) Battle Group
watch over a scout team heading into the ravine below.
These troops were engaged in Operation ANACONDA, the
Canadian Army’s first combat mission since the Korean War.
The 3 PPCLI Battle Group was deployed in Afghanistan
on Operation APOLLO, Canada’s military contribution
to the international campaign against terrorism.

The three Military Valour Decorations ( MVDs) (Victoria Cross, Star of Military Valour and Medal of Military Valour) were created on 1 January 1993 to recognize acts of valour, self sacrifice or devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. They can be awarded in situations short of war if the troops are in “combat” with an organized, armed “enemy” that is recognized as such by the Canadian people. It must be understood however that “combat” is not merely the presence of fire. Rather, the fire has to be directed at our troops, with the intent of our troops being the destruction of the opposing force as a valid entity. The word “enemy” in this context means a hostile armed force, and includes armed terrorists, armed mutineers, armed rebels, armed rioters and armed pirates.

It should be noted that conflicting parties in a peacekeeping context are not considered enemies and although there may be altercations with the CF in a peacekeeping mission, the use of force by the CF will generally be limited to self-defence. This is why MVDs are not generally awarded during peacekeeping operations.]

Victoria Cross V.C. Star of Military Valour S.M.V. Medal of Military Valour M.M.V.

The Victoria Cross shall be awarded for the most conspicuous bravery, a daring or preeminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty, in the presence of the enemy.

The Star of Military Valour shall be awarded for distinguished and valiant service in the presence of the enemy.

The Medal of Military Valour shall be awarded for an act of valour or devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.

The Decorations for Bravery

A search and rescue technician operating from a CH-146 Griffon
helicopter over Sacré-Coeur, Québec.

Decorations for Bravery were created in 1972 to recognize people who have risked their lives to save or protect others. The three levels — the Cross of Valour, the Star of Courage and the Medal of Bravery — reflect the varying degrees of risk involved in any act of bravery. These decorations are awarded to civilians as well as to members of the CF. The Governor General personally presents the decorations in ceremonies held at Rideau Hall, Ottawa or La Citadelle, Quebec City. Nominations must be made within two years of the incident.

Cross of Valour C.V. Star of Courage S.C. Medal of Bravery M.B.

The Cross of Valour is awarded for acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril. At the time of printing, only 19 people had received this decoration.

The Star of Courage is awarded for acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril.

The Medal of Bravery is awarded for acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances.

A boarding party of Her Majesty’s Canadian
Ship (HMCS) Charlottetown in action in the
Mediterranean Sea off the coast
of Italy in 2001.

The Meritorious Service Decorations

Meritorious Service Decorations honour either a single achievement or an activity over a specified period, while the Order of Military Merit focuses on long-term achievement. Meritorious Service Decorations are separated into military and civilian divisions, with two levels in each category: a Cross and a Medal. The military division recognizes individuals for outstanding professionalism and for bringing honour to the CF. Foreign nationals can be recognized in either division. The military Cross was created in 1984. The military Medal and the civilian Cross and Medal were created in 1991.

The Meritorious Service Decorations (Military Division)

(left): Meritorious Service Cross M.S.C., (right): Meritorious Service Medal M.S.M.

The Meritorious Service Cross (military division) recognizes a military deed or activity that has been performed in an outstandingly professional manner, according to a rare high standard that brings considerable benefit or great honour to the CF.

The Meritorious Service Medal (military division) recognizes a military deed or activity that has been performed in a highly professional manner or of a very high standard that brings benefit or honour to the CF.

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Campaign and Service Medals

General Ray Henault, C.M.M., C.D., Chief of the Defence Staff,
congratulates Private Marc D’Astous of the 3rd Battalion,
Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI) after
presenting him with his General Campaign Star to recognize his
participation in the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF)
in Afghanistan. The ceremony took place on 5 January 2005 in
Camp Julien, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Campaign and Service Medals have been awarded in their modern form since the middle of the 19th century and recognize participation in a particular campaign or operation. A campaign medal like the Gulf and Kuwait Medal or the General Campaign Star, is awarded only to those who serve inside a specified theatre of operation, while service medals, like the South-West Asia Service Medal or the General Service Medal, may be awarded to those who serve in direct support of the operation from outside the theatre. Canadian campaign and service medals are only awarded for honourable service. Accordingly, a Commanding Officer may recommend that a member not be awarded the medal if it is deemed that the person has not served honourably. The Canadian medals have a minimum period of service requirement, usually a number of days, but they have no maximum meaning that all service with this particular operation is recognized by one medal and/or bar. CF members, depending on the mission, may also receive United Nations, NATO and other international mission medals but these are not discussed in this publication. Canadian Honours policy precludes dual recognition, this means that a specific service may only be recognized by the award of one medal/bar, the only exception being the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal which may be awarded, depending on the situation, in addition to another mission medal.

The Gulf and Kuwait Medal

The Gulf and Kuwait Medal recognizes the persons deployed to or in direct support of the operations against Iraq during the Gulf war. The medal is awarded to persons who served a minimum of 30 cumulative days in theatre between 2 August 1990 and 27 June 1991, on operations to defend against aggression and to liberate Kuwait.

Those who served for at least one day, in the theatre of operations, during the hostilities (16 January 1991 to 03 March 1991) are eligible for the Medal and bar.

The theatre of operations was the special duty area of the Persian Gulf including Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, as well as those other states on the immediate borders of Iraq.

The Somalia Medal

The Somalia medal recognises the participation of CF members that have taken part in the coalition mission in Somalia to help stabilise the country from civil war, and to help deliver humanitarian aid.

The Medal is awarded for a minimum of 90 cumulative days of honourable service in the theatre of operations between 16 November 1992 and 30 June1993, provided that this service has not been recognized by another medal.

The theatre of operations consisted of the Somali Democratic Republic, its offshore waters extending to 200 nautical miles and the Republic of Kenya.

The South-West Asia Service Medal

The South-West Asia Service Medal recognizes participation while deployed to or in direct support of the operations against terrorism in South-West Asia. The medal with AFGHANISTAN bar is awarded for 30 days cumulative service after 11 September 2001 in the theatre of operations, which is a subset of the United States Central Command Area of Operation Responsibility ( USCENTCOM AOR). The theatre of operations is defined as the land, sea, or air spaces of Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Suez Canal and those parts of the Indian Ocean north of 5° South Latitude and west of 68° East Longitude.

The medal (without bar) is awarded for a minimum of 90 days cumulative service in direct support of operations against terrorism in South-West Asia from 11 September 2001 (end dates vary depending on location) in the Headquarters in Tampa Bay, Florida, with the Strategic Airlift Detachment, Ramstein, Germany or with the Strategic Lines of Communications Detachments in the US or Europe.

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The General Campaign Star

The General Campaign Star is awarded to members of the CF who deploy into a defined theatre of operations to take part in operations in the presence of an armed enemy. The Star is always issued with a bar specifying the operations being recognized, and each bar has its own criteria.

  1. ALLIED FORCE: Awarded to fighter pilots and AWACS crew members who flew at least 5 sorties during Operation ALLIED FORCE from 24 March to 10 June 1999 in the theatre of operations which consisted of the airspace over Kosovo and other territories of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the Adriatic and Ionian seas.
  2. ISAF+ FIAS: Awarded to military personnel who served with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan for at least 30 days cumulative since 24 April 2003, in the theatre of operations which consisted of the political boundaries and airspace of Afghanistan. Aircrew flying into the theatre accumulate one day of service for the first sortie flown on any day, additional sorties flown on the same day receive no further credit.

The General Service Medal

The General Service Medal is awarded to CF members who deploy outside of Canada – but not necessarily into a theatre of operations – to provide direct support, on a full-time basis, to operations in the presence of an armed enemy. The Medal may also be awarded to Canadian civilians, who are deployed outside Canada, either inside or outside a theatre of operations and working with the CF to provide direct support, on a full-time basis, to operations in the presence of an armed enemy. The Medal is always issued with a bar identifying the operations being recognized, and each bar has its own criteria.

The Special Service Medal

The Special Service Medal recognizes CF members who have performed a service under exceptional circumstances, in a clearly defined locality for a specified duration. The Medal recognizes approved activities underway on 11 June 1984, or subsequently established. This medal is always issued with a bar that identifies the special service being recognized, each bar having its own criteria.

PAKISTAN 1989-1990:  For a minimum of 90 days service with the Mine Awareness and Clearance Training Program in Pakistan, between 15 March 1989 and 29 July 1990, under the auspices of the UN. This bar is no longer issued and may be exchanged for the UN Special Service Medal.

ALERT:  For 180 days service at CF Station Alert since 1 September 1958.

PEACE-PAIX:  For 180 days peacekeeping service between November 1947 and 21 June 2001. It was issued for service which had not been recognized by any other award. In 2001, the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal ( CPSM ) superseded this bar.

NATO+OTAN: For 180 days service in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) position or in a Canadian position under the operational control of NATO between 1 January 1951 and 19 October 2004. This bar is currently under review.

HUMANITAS:  For 30 days service in approved humanitarian operations outside Canada since 11 June 1984, provided that service has not been acknowledged by any other award.

RANGER:  For four years service as a Canadian Ranger and completion of a minimum of three Ranger Patrol Exercises within Canada or its territorial and contiguous waters since 1947.

The Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal

The Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal ( CPSM) is awarded for a minimum of 30 days of service in an approved UN or international peacekeeping mission since 1947.

Peacekeeping missions that qualify for award of the CPSM will be carried out under the auspices of the United Nations, or with another international force, and the belligerents who agree to a peace-support deployment must also agree to participation by the CF. The types of missions to be included are support of preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping and post-conflict peace-building, and sanctions monitoring missions and monitoring no-fly zones (ie, observing and noting violations but not attempting enforcement).

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The Canadian Forces’ Decoration

The Canadian Forces’ Decoration ( C.D.) is awarded to officers and non-Commissioned members of the CF (Regular Forces, Reserve Forces, officers of the Cadet Instructors Cadre ( CIC) and Canadian Rangers) who have completed twelve years of good and loyal service. The decoration is awarded to all ranks, who have a record of good conduct.

A clasp is awarded for every subsequent period of ten years of qualifying service.

The Sovereign as Fount of all honours and the Sovereign’s representative in Canada, the Governor General and Commander-in-Chief are deemed to meet all C.D. criteria. Service as a captain general, colonel-in-chief, colonel commandant, colonel of the regiment, honorary colonel or lieutenant-colonel is deemed to be active service. Personal appointments, such as Aide-de-Camp to a Lieutenant Governor, are not considered active service and therefore, are not on their own, eligible for the C.D.

The clasp to the C.D.

Mentioned in Dispatches and Commendations

The following awards are bestowed upon individuals whose acts or services do not quite meet the criteria for a decoration but are nonetheless worthy of recognition.

Mentioned in Dispatches are national honours awarded for valiant conduct, devotion to duty or other distinguished service to members of the CF on active service and other individuals working with or in conjunction with the CF on or after November 1, 1990. The oak leaf is worn on the ribbon of the appropriate campaign of service medal. When no medal is associated with the action, the oak leaf is worn in the same manner as a commendation.

The Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation is awarded by the Chief of the Defence Staff to recognize deeds or activities beyond the demand of normal duty.

The Command Commendation is awarded by a command to recognize a contribution affecting or reflecting well on the command.

Commonwealth and foreign awards

Examples of Commonwealth and foreign awards.
From left to right, top row: Insignia of a Member of the
Most Excellent Order of the British Empire,
British Operational Service Medal for Sierra Leone,
insignia of a Knight of the French Legion of Honour.
Bottom row: insignia of a Legionnaire of the
United States Legion of Merit, United States Meritorious
Service Medal, French National Defence Medal (bronze).

Canadian policy on Commonwealth and foreign honours 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 CF uniform. Although the policy requires approval before an award, requests after the fact, which explain the presentation circumstances, may be considered.

To be recognized by Canada, foreign honours must emanate from a head of state or government. Awards originating by some other or lower authority are regarded as private honours and 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.

Requests to award foreign honours to Canadians must be submitted by the donating country to their diplomatic mission in Canada for approval by the Government Honours Policy Sub- Committee at Rideau Hall.

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Order of Precedence

The insignia of orders, decorations and medals shall be worn in the order shown below. Authorized post nominal letters are indicated in brackets where appropriate and the recipients of those honours may place these letters, in accordance with the order of precedence, after their name where appropriate.

UN Mission in Haiti Medal
NATO Medal for Former Yugoslavia

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Wearing honours

The insignia of orders, decorations and medals shall be worn on the CF uniforms in accordance with CF dress regulations. They can also be worn on civilian attire; the basic rule is that full-size awards are worn for daytime events such as parades, investitures, commemoratives ceremonies and services, speeches from the Throne, military or state funerals, levees, etc, while miniature awards are worn for night-time events such as mess dinners, banquets, balls, etc. Invitations should specify if medals will be worn. The medals shall be mounted and worn on civilian dress in a similar manner as on military dress, the ladies having the additional option of wearing neck badges and/or a single breast medal mounted on a bow on the left shoulder.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not permissible, and it is in fact a criminal offence, to wear the medals of a deceased family member or friend. Orders, decorations and medals are worn by individuals as a public and official mark of recognition for their courage, merit or service and it is therefore logical that only the original and intended recipient may wear them. After the recipient’s passing, the awards may remain in the family and even be put on display as heirloom or given to a recognized museum but under no circumstances should the awards be worn by anyone else than the original recipient.

To obtain information on military honours or to make an application for or obtain a replacement of a modern Canadian, United Nations or NATO award, consult the publications below or contact the Honours and Awards Section of the Directorate of History and Heritage:

The Honours, Flags and Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces, A-AD-200-000/AG-000

Canadian Forces Dress Instructions, A-AD-265-000/AG-001

Honours and Awards
Directorate of History and Heritage
National Defence Headquarters
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa ON K1A 0K2

To obtain information on the Canadian Honours system, to make a nomination or obtain replacements for a Canadian order or decoration (non-military), the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (CVSM) for Korea and/or commemorative medals, contact the Chancellery of Honours at Rideau Hall:

Chancellery of Honours
Rideau Hall
1 Sussex Drive
Ottawa ON K1A 0A1

To make an application for or obtain replacements of First and Second World War medals as well as those related to the Korean conflict (with the exception of the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for Korea), contact Veterans Affairs Canada:

Honours and Awards
Veterans Affairs Canada
66 Slater Street, Suite 1411
Ottawa ON K1A 0P4

The last two CF recipients of the Cross of Valour, Master-Corporal
Bryan Keith Pierce, C.V., C.D. from CFB Greenwood and
Sergeant Keith Paul Mitchell, C.V., C.D. from CFB Cold Lake,
holding their decoration after the investiture which
took place at the Citadel in Quebec City on 18 September 1998.

Other related reference works

The Canadian Honours System, Dr. Christopher McCreery, Dundurn Press, Toronto, 2005.

Canadian Orders, Decorations and Medals, 5th Edition, Surgeon Commander Francis John Blatherwick, C.M., C.D., The Unitrade Press, Toronto, 2003.

The Medal Yearbook 2005, 11th Edition, Token Publishing Limited, London, UK, 2004.