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Anglican, refugee advocate named to Order of Canada

By Martha Holmen

The Rev. Michael Creal, a member of Holy Trinity, Trinity Square and a dedicated refugee advocate, has been appointed a Member of the Order of Canada, awarded to people who make extraordinary contributions to Canada. He is among 83 new appointments in 2024.

The Rev. Michael Creal (seated, centre) surrounded by family members at the ceremony on June 29. Photos courtesy of the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

Surrounded by family members and colleagues, Mr. Creal was invested into the Order on June 29 by the Hon. Edith Dumont, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, on behalf of the Rt. Hon. Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada. The small ceremony took place close to home on account of Mr. Creal’s failing health.

“My brother-in-law phoned the governor general’s office and told them about the circumstances, and then very quickly the lieutenant governor’s office organized it,” says Marg Creal, the Diocese of Toronto’s chancellor and Mr. Creal’s daughter. “It was just pure delight. It was a marvellous event.”

Mr. Creal, 96, has dedicated his life to being an educator, activist and faith leader. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Niagara but has been living and serving in Toronto for more than 60 years.

“He worked in church-land for a few years and left when York University came into being,” says Ms. Creal. Mr. Creal joined the faculty of York University in the early 1960s and played a significant role in establishing its internationally renowned Centre for Refugee Studies. He is now professor emeritus.

Mr. Creal’s advocacy for refugees has also marked his personal and faith life. He is a founder of the Sanctuary Coalition, established in 1993 as an ecumenical movement centred at Holy Trinity. The group advocates on behalf of refugees whose claims, in the view of the coalition, have been wrongly rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

The Rev. Michael Creal shakes hands with the Hon. Edith Dumont, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

He and his wife, Lee, also helped to establish Sanctuary North, a property on the York River not far from Algonquin Park. The site gives refugees the opportunity to spend time together in a safe rural setting to enrich their experience of Canada and build community.

Ms. Creal recalls seeing her father riding an ATV in the spring to help clear rocks and debris from the road before other vehicles could pass. “The concept of radical hospitality really defines my dad in terms of his teaching and his advocacy work, and the embodiment of that really is Sanctuary North,” she says. “He spent a lot of time there with members of that community.”

The guest list on June 29 included many people with whom he and Lee have worked in the refugee movement, including Mary Jo Leddy, founder of Romero House, who spoke about Mr. Creal’s dedication to supporting refugees.

Ms. Creal says her family is incredibly proud of her father’s work and this public recognition of his decades of service. “Dad has never been a person that calls a great deal of attention to himself in terms of his achievements. He’s not a boastful person in any way,” she says.

Despite the bittersweetness of celebrating while knowing that Mr. Creal is in the last days of his life, Ms. Creal describes the gathering as a gift. “What did we see on his face that day? Joy.”