Parliament voted last week to revoke the honorary citizenship it had previously bestowed upon Aung San Suu Kyi the civilian leader of Myanmar, horrified that she has done nothing to stop the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya – OOPS- I guess the Prime Minister was a bit too quick off the mark in awarding the honour in the first place .
It leads me to ponder – what is the purpose of bestowing honorary citizenship anyway? I can think of no practical reason for doing so, other than the obvious opportunity it affords politicians to indulge in a feel good photo-op with a celebrity. Canada’s recognition of Suu Kyi obviously did nothing to improve the human rights situation in Myanmar, so really, what was the point?
Granting honours, especially to celebrities who are still alive and capable of disappointing us can be a tricky business. The Order of Canada has had to re-think its membership list so many times, after recipients have subsequently disgraced themselves I’m surprised they don’t keep the honour roll in pencil. So why do we do it?
Take Bill Cosby, for example. Back when he was still “America’s Dad” and a benign and beloved father figure, he collected over 60 honorary degrees from Universities across the US. His conviction for sexual assault has caused a massive recall of those honours by a number of prestigious schools.
Interestingly, Yale University is not amongst them. It has a long-standing policy not to revoke honours bestowed upon persons who subsequently disgrace themselves. Given that Yale is the alma mater of both Judge Kavanaugh and Judge Clarence Thomas ( of Anita Hill fame) this is perhaps not surprising!