Queen's Prof Called to Order

A Kingston native and a Kingston adoptee are among 113 new appointees to the Order of Canada announced by the governor general on Thursday.

Barbara Sherwood Lollar was born and raised in Kingston, while John McGarry arrived in Canada as a student in 1981, leaving behind the conflict in Northern Ireland at the time. Planning to remain for only a year, McGarry decided to stay and 35 years later is a Canadian citizen, a distinguished professor at Queen's University and now an officer of the Order of Canada.

Lollar was named a companion to the Order of Canada for her work as a geochemist at the University of Toronto where she has received multiple awards, authored more than a hundred papers and lectured at some of the most prestigious institutions in academia. The accomplishments listed on her CV would be too numerous to reiterate, however, a significant achievement is Lollar's recent participation in a discovery that groundwater in fractures kilometres deep in the rocks of the Canadian Shield have residence times in excess of a billion years. The discovery holds implications for the search for life elsewhere in the solar system and has earned Lollar advisory positions with the Mars Exploration Program.

McGarry's work is more human. He specializes in power-sharing, federalism and other forms of territorial autonomy, looking at political institutions in conflict areas around the world.

For McGarry, the news came in a cryptic voicemail, asking him to call the chancellory of honours at the governor general's office. That sounded good, but he didn't quite know what it meant. After several attempts to reach the office, he eventually spoke to someone who explained, "Professor McGarry, you've been named an officer of the Order of Canada. Do you accept?"

"Who ever turns this down?" McGarry asked himself. "Of course, I wanted to run out and hire a small plane and get a banner and fly across Kingston telling everyone John McGarry's got the Order of Canada. I managed to suppress that urge."

The appointment means a great deal to the Irish-born academic, whose accent leaves the listener in no doubt of his origins.

"This is the country that has adopted me," McGarry said. "I think that Canada, and I don't say this with any sense of hyperbole, but it's really the best country in the world."

He would know. McGarry's research into designing peaceful political institutions in divided places and situations takes him to countries that are often embroiled in violence and unrest.

His experience growing up during the Northern Ireland conflict played a central role in informing the direction his work would take. "I wanted to understand what it was about and I wanted to research, in particular, ways to end it, resolve it. That's what I did for most of my academic life."

"More than anything else," he said, "more than getting books published with prestigious university presses or winning academic grants or anything of that nature, it was finding that the ideas were being taken up by policy makers and politicians and implemented in a way, in a small way, which contributed to or facilitated the peace process in Ireland and in other places."

His contribution, however small, to a peaceful resolution in Northern Ireland is what McGarry considers one of his most significant achievements. "If my small role, I don't want to be claiming responsibility, my small role in providing ideas and seeing some of those ideas being implemented was a source of tremendous pride."

McGarry's work in conflict-zones often takes him far from the home he's made in Kingston. His current position as the lead adviser in United Nations-backed negotiations in Cyprus has taken him across the world and back around 45 times since 2008. It's a 30-hour round trip.

"I've estimated I've spent something like a month in the air day and night," he said.

The Cyprus problem has been going on for decades, but in the time he's spent there, McGarry said he's been able to facilitate agreement on a number of contentious issues which are moving the community towards a peaceful accord.

"Essentially, if you ask me in a sentence, we get [societies] to work together in institutions which they can both feel a part of and partners in," McGarry said.

The steps toward this goal are taken with great care and deliberation.

"Winning their trust is very important," McGarry said. "Definitely no sense of going in and telling these people that you have the answer to their conflict."

"You have to find out what their concerns are and you have to be impartial."

McGarry's advice on conflict-resolution would make a useful parenting book, an apt analogy he admitted. "Some of my parenting informs my peacemaking, and some of my peacemaking informs my parenting," he said.

The perfect opportunity for the peacemaker to celebrate his appointment arrived the next day on Canada Day, when McGarry said he planned to join friends in celebrating both the country he's come to call home and the new honour it has offered him.