In tribute to our 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the CFPDP introduced The Honourable David C. Onley Award in 2014. The
award recognizes examples of extraordinary service to Canadians who live with disability. This year’s winner is Michael Burns, CEO
of The Invictus Games Toronto 2017 and newly appointed President & CEO of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.
Handsome, dashing and the face of the Invictus Games, he was the main reason, according to research data gathered before the event, that Canadians would tune in to watch Canada’s edition of the fledgling adaptive sport competition for wounded armed services members and veterans. Jump forward to the final days of the week-long competition, and – as Games CEO Michael Burns delights in telling –the prince had taken a bit of a hit. By this point, Canadians were caught up in the excitement of the athletes and their performances. When asked why they were tuning in, “his Royal Highness was at 11 percent and the competitors were at 64 percent,” said Burns. “That is an incredible shift, and it shows you the power of sharing these amazing stories of heroism, determination, sacrifice and courage.” The roots of Burns’ involvement with the Games can be traced to his childhood. He was taught by his parents the importance of giving back to the community and helping those in need. Ten years ago, after a friend’s son, Captain Matthew Dawe, was killed in Afghanistan, he was stirred to do something for military families.
Soon after, Burns co-founded the True Patriot Love Foundation, a national charity that raises awareness of the needs of military families and provides funding for support programs. In 2012, Burns was awarded the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service, the military’s highest honour for a civilian. Until recently, he served as chair of the Michael Garron Hospital Foundation Board (formerly the Toronto East General Hospital Foundation Board). In 2016, he led a team that secured a $50-million donation, the largest gift ever made to a Canadian community-teaching hospital, and an amount that matches the largest gift ever to any hospital in Canada. In January 2018, Burns, who has a background in the financial sector and until recently was a vice-president at AudienceView, took on a new role as President & CEO of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. When the opportunity arose to secure the 2017 Invictus Games for Canada,Burns and his colleagues at True Patriot Love Foundation pitched and won.
Burns assumed the helm as Games CEO and built the organization that successfully delivered the late-September event across nine Toronto sports venues. Asked if he thought the competition
had contributed to changing minds about the capabilities of people with disabilities, Burns said the answer is a “resounding yes.” “We had a worldwide audience of more than 40 million, we had 7.5 million Canadians tune in to watch the coverage, and we had a complete sell-out for the preliminary rounds, the finals and the opening and closing ceremonies. “There was such interest in these
Games that I really do believe we advanced the issues of people with disabilities and changed minds.” Moreover, he said, “One of the great stats that came out of the research is that the sadness factor fell right off for audiences as they watched the Games. People initially expected they would feel sad for the competitors. “Just the opposite. They saw determination and courage on
full display, and they didn’t feel sorry for these people anymore. They felt inspired by them.”