TORONTO - Prime Minister Stephen Harper honoured a group of Ontarians with a national community service award Saturday as a leading activist was vowing to send back her award to show solidarity with a First Nations chief on a high-profile protest.
Maude Barlow, the head of the citizen's group Council of Canadians, says she plans to send her medal back to the office of Gov. Gen. David Johnston, who oversees the awarding of the copper-silver medals emblazoned with an image of the Queen.
The move is in support of a push from Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and the wave of Idle No More protests for the Harper government to do more to address the concerns of First Nations, Barlow said.
The medal is a symbol of the ties between the Crown, Ottawa and First Nations that have come apart over unmet demands by Spence to have a working meeting between First Nations leaders and Harper and Johnston all in the same room, she said.
"It represents the relationship of the Crown, and the government and the people. And that broke down badly in the last few weeks — very badly," Barlow said in a telephone interview Saturday.
Spence has sworn off solid food for more than a month and a spokesman has vowed her protest is continuing.
Barlow said the "trigger" for her decision to send back the award on Monday was Spence's anger on Friday following a ceremonial meeting with Johnston at his Rideau Hall residence.
Aboriginal leaders met separately Friday with Harper for a day-long meeting that ended with what Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said was a promise of top-level talks to modernize and implement ancient treaties — a result some other First Nation leaders saw as lacklustre.
And Barlow isn't alone in returning the award. Author Naomi Klein and singer Sarah Slean said Friday on Twitter they are rejecting offers to receive the medal as a show of support for Idle No More.
Harper and Lt.-Gov. David Onley bestowed the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal on 17 people during a ceremony at the Ontario legislature — the latest batch of some 60,000 Canadians to receive the commendation before the award year ends next month.
Among the recipients at the Saturday medal ceremony was David Chen, a Toronto grocer charged in 2009 but later acquitted for chasing down and detaining a shoplifter.
Chen was charged because he did not apprehend the repeat shoplifter at the time of the theft, instead he tied up the thief and threw him in a van when he reappeared about an hour later.
The case spurred a debate on vigilantism and led to Criminal Code changes introduced by the Tories to widen the powers of citizen to make arrests and defend themselves.
Recipients are nominated by community groups and national organizations, as well as the general public.
Earlier Saturday Harper met with eight women from the business world and indicated he would be consulting business leaders across the country to discuss the economy in the year ahead.