Both of my parents, professors and brain researchers Mary and Philip Seeman, are members of the prestigious Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honour. It is therefore doubly unsettling to me when some of the greatest contributors to the social contract we call Canada are humiliated, most of them getting on in their years. To wit:
Six hundred Ontario medallists (including those who had received Gold Jubilee medals) and their guests, plus dignitaries, entertainers, organizers and volunteers gathered at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto on June 18 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. Like the Queen, the medalists, or a goodly portion of them, had 60 years of achievements under their belts so weren't youngsters. There was a profusion of canes in attendance, as well as walkers and wheelchairs, as was to be expected.
But the organizers of this event seem not to have expected it. On a sizzling day in Toronto, the 600 and their guests waited in their finery, waited on hot, crowded stairways while the doors to the Hall remained locked. Some were trapped in an elevator, though finally rescued. Into a valley of weirdness the 600 went.
When the doors finally opened, the mob was met with a bewildering set of new line ups, arranged by alphabet. The X and Z lines went fast but delay upon delay ensued in some of the more popular rank and files. Some names appeared to be missing, hyphenated names being the hardest to categorize in this byzantine system.
Finally reaching the table and hoping to retrieve -- at last -- the precious medal, aspirants were given... a number! This was to be, apparently, a treasure hunt. A search for the meaning and location of the number came next. It turned out that each number stood for a table on which were piled boxes that contained the longed-for medals. People milled around. There were no chairs. Some were fortunate to find pillars to lean against because the crowd was in for another long wait. Incidentally, this would have been an ideal time to pass around refreshments because it was 7 p.m., no one had eaten dinner; many had come from out of town. All were hungry, but only bottled water was available.
The wait was for a Lieutenant Governor proxy to come to pin the medal on the lapel where it belonged. And a dignitary to read out the citation (in one language only). And photographers to capture the moment (to whose benefit was this event? The media or the honorees?). This being done, each medalist received a ticket to a seat in the Hall.
Unfortunately, the Hall has many stairs and no concession was made to canes and walkers, many of which could be seen at the top most floors trying to maneuver steps with no railings amid heavy breathing.
The crowd -- after another long wait (they had somehow run out of printed tickets!) -- was treated to a show which, in part, celebrated the Queen and, in part, showcased Canadian talent. The audience, expecting the event to be (in some small manner at least) about their accomplishments, were understandably nonplussed.
Finally, the show over, refreshments were promised. This announcement was welcomed with applause (for the refreshments). But, at this point, speed was of the essence. Only the young and fleet of foot managed to snag the few hors d'oeuvres that whizzed by on disappearing trays. The canes and the walkers had no chance at all. On the positive side, there was lots of Ontario wine available, and coffee -- both beverages, of course, off bounds for this over 80 set.
An important event, but surely one that deserves better organization. We should measure our country both by how we treat the most vulnerable, and how we treat those who have given so much to help the vulnerable.