On Canada Day this year, Professor John McGarry wore a small lapel pin, emblazoned with a snowflake and a Canadian flag, to a friend’s barbeque. Only recipients of the nation’s highest honour may wear one, yet “nobody noticed the pin at all” the professor joked.
On June 30, the Order of Canada announced its most recent appointments to the national honour society, which included the Queen’s professor amongst the prestigious list.
McGarry was honoured for his work in the field of political science, where he specializes in conflict resolution. At the time he spoke with The Journal, McGarry was in Cyprus aiding the United Nations in unifying the island.
As a prominent authority in the field of conflict resolution, McGarry’s specialization spawns from an early influence on his life. His first introduction to civil discord came from his home of Ballymena in Northern Ireland.
He came of age during the ’60s and ’70s, “when people were killing each other”, he said, during to the ethno-nationalist conflict at the time in Northern Ireland. “The Troubles”, as it’s commonly referred to, was a violent territorial conflict between a majority population that wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom and a minority population that identified nationally with the Republic of Ireland.
When he went to university, McGarry wanted to figure out why people were so divided and why they did what they did as a result of those divisions. He went to study to figure out “what the Irish conflict was about,” he said.
“In order to research the Irish conflict, you find that you have to. research other conflicts.”
“Once you learn those tools, you are equipped to deal with issues in other places, which is why I am doing what I do now in Cyprus.”
McGarry now has three kids in Canada and has spent more time here than in his country of birth.
He came to Queen’s in 2002 after studying at Western University and teaching at a few other schools around the province.
He was drawn to Kingston, he said, by the offer of a Canada research chair and the school’s reputation. He stayed in town for Queen’s, and the fact that “the area’s very physically beautiful”.
“It’s really something special to be recognized by the country you chose to come to and that allowed you to come there” he said.
Canada, in his mind, is the country that adopted him.
“The Order of Canada does not have any money attached to it, and it’s not academically prestigious, but it’s a huge honour and it’s hugely satisfying to get that kind of recognition,” he said.
The Order of Canada is a civil award, which distinguishes it from the many other academic awards McGarry has won. The meaningful side to the Order, for him, is that it is “given for work in the field,” or as he put it, “in layman’s terms: making a difference”.
McGarry said that Canada’s ability to pass legislation that allows for the considerations of different ethnic groups is laudable. The country’s ability to settle the conflict between Quebec and English-speaking Canada is how things should be done in the rest of the world.
“If you look at the things Canadians are doing in politics, it’s the kind of things other countries should be doing”.
McGarry added that globalization has allowed Queen’s students to relate to the issues they may have previously been cut off from. “If you find discrimination, violence, and deprivation in other parts of the world, it can come back to bite you in Canada: this is a globalized world now”.
Canada, he believes is “one of the most privileged countries on Earth”.
According to him, Canadians have a moral obligation to help rectify issues in the world, given that we have the freedom to do so.
We ought to help any way that we can, he said, because we have won “the lottery of life” — and should use the winnings to help, wherever we can.
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