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Locals get Queen's award

Diamond Jubilee medal received by city, town residents

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012 06:00 am

LOCAL RECIPIENTS – John O’Neill and Karen Gall recently accepted Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals (pictured on O’Neill’s lapel.) O’Neill was recognized for decades of human rights work. Gall accepted on behalf of her late husband Gerald, a social justice advocate who died in March.
LOCAL RECIPIENTS – John O’Neill and Karen Gall recently accepted Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals (pictured on O’Neill’s lapel.) O’Neill was recognized for decades of human rights work. Gall accepted on behalf of her late husband Gerald, a social justice advocate who died in March.
CORY HARE/St. Albert Gazette

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The Medal

The federal government commissioned the Diamond Jubilee medal this year to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s 60th year as Canada’s queen. Some 60,000 will be awarded to Canadians who have made significant contributions to their country and were alive on Feb. 6, 2012 (the anniversary of the queen’s accession).

Four local residents received national recognition this week for their lifetimes of public service.

Former mayor, judge and provincial cabinet minister Richard Fowler received a posthumous Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal at city council on Monday. The medal, commissioned earlier this year, is a national honour that marks the queen’s 60th year on the throne.

Joanne Bugnet of Morinville and Gerald Gall and John “Jack” O’Neill of St. Albert also received the medal last Sept. 20 in a ceremony at Edmonton’s Government House conducted by Lt. Gov. Donald Ethell.

This medal goes out to Canadians who share the queen’s lifelong commitment to public service, Ethell said — those who live by Her Majesty’s words of, “I serve.”

“These caring and insightful Albertans have dedicated themselves to building a stronger quality of life for their fellow citizens and they have truly earned this special day of celebration,” he said, congratulating all who had received the medal. “Wear it with pride.”

Mr. St. Albert

Some 60,000 of these medals are to be awarded, Ethell said, with nominations coming from governments and community groups across the nation.

City council nominated Fowler for the award in around January due to his many years as St. Albert’s mayor, said Mayor Nolan Crouse.

Fowler served for 12 years as St. Albert’s mayor in the 1960s and 1980s. He then served as the city’s MLA for five years, holding numerous cabinet posts, before moving on to become a provincial court judge.

Fowler could have had a lucrative career as a lawyer, Crouse said, but chose instead to serve the public. “He gave his life to public service.”

Fowler died last July. His widow, Dawne, accepted the medal on his behalf.

Dawne said she didn’t actually realize what her husband had received until Crouse started reading the citation in council Monday. “He was a real visionary when it came to his community,” she said of Fowler. “He loved St. Albert.”

Fowler probably would have wondered why he was nominated for this award if he were still alive today, Dawne said, as he would insist that others deserved it more, but would have been thrilled with it in the end. “I think it would have meant a great deal to him.”

The sheriff

Ethell has decided to give this medal to the six sheriffs who have guarded him during his time as lieutenant governor.

Bugnet was one of those officers up until about a week ago — she just retired as a sheriff after 18 years.

Her stint as sheriff started when she was laid off from her job at the Sturgeon Community Hospital and put in an application to become sheriff, she said. She got the job, and served for 13 years in courts in Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.

It was her job to wrangle the robbers, murderers and sexual assaulters that came before the court. Most represented the worst side of Edmonton, she said. “It does wear on you.”

She recalled one terrifying prisoner who had shot a cop and beaten a man into a vegetative state. “His demeanour, it was frightening,” she said. “He wanted to be your friend, yet you didn’t want to be alone with him.” It was a happy time for her when she switched to guard duty at the legislature five years ago.

It was awesome to be at the ceremony with all her fellow co-workers, Bugnet said. “It’s truly an honour to receive an award like that.” She is now enjoying her retirement.

Rights crusaders

The jubilee medal is also going out to all members of the Order of Canada, Ethell said, including O’Neill and Gall.

O’Neill is a past chief commissioner of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and, along with Gall, helped found the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.

“Many people whose rights are violated have no means with which to express or defend themselves,” O’Neill said, and anyone who has rights has the responsibility to help others exercise those rights.

If you have a right to food, he argued, you have a responsibility to donate to the food bank. “Education is a human right, but I’ve got to do something to help people get their education,” he said. “The only way I can put it is, ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’”

O’Neill said he still feels undeserving of this reward, but was proud to have received it.

In addition to co-founding the aforementioned centre, Gall was a renowned authority on constitutional law and human rights, speaking at international conferences and serving as an advisor to the federal government at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. He also led a campaign in 2004 to make Edmonton the first human rights city in North America.

Gall has previously received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and Alberta Centennial medals. He died this past March.

Gall’s widow, Karen, who received the diamond jubilee medal on his behalf last week, says it was his Jewish faith that drove him to do what he did. “He valued people for who they are,” she said, and believed that all cultures should be valued.

“He didn’t do it for the recognition,” she said. “He was involved because it was the right thing to do.”

Visit www.gg.ca/diamondjubilee for more on the award.


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