Lawyer Neil McCrank is this year's recipient of the Msgr. Bill Irwin Award of Excellence.


Lawyer Neil McCrank is this year's recipient of the Msgr. Bill Irwin Award of Excellence.

June 25, 2012

Former Alberta deputy attorney general Neil McCrank is this year's recipient of the Msgr. Bill Irwin Award of Excellence.

McCrank was honoured for his remarkable ethical and community contributions at the local, provincial and national levels.

Father Mike McCaffery presented the award to McCrank at Catholic Social Services' 50th annual general meeting at Edmonton Northlands EXPO centre June 14.

The Msgr. Bill Irwin Award is given yearly to an organization or an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to the well-being of the community or who has demonstrated the highest standard of achievement in a human services field.

Irwin founded Catholic Social Services in Edmonton in 1961. Today, the agency provides professional service to people of all faiths and cultures, through more than 130 programs. The Catholic Women's League of the Edmonton Archdiocese was given the Msgr. Bill Irwin Award last year.

McCrank, who now lives in Calgary, served as deputy attorney general and deputy justice minister from 1989 to 1998. For more than 20 years, while living in Edmonton, he served as a member and chair of the boards of Catholic Social Services and Catholic Charities Society. A close friend and confidante of Irwin, McCrank was also a key player in the "legal" creation of the Sign of Hope Society.

"Neil is an exemplary witness to the Christian ethic of service above self," McCaffery said.

The priest noted that McCrank also served as a board member of Caritas Health Group, the parent advisory committees for St. Rose Junior High School and Archbishop MacDonald High School, and generously gave of his time as a coach of minor hockey and soccer teams.

Married for 45 years, with four children, McCrank has been an active Catholic in his Edmonton and Calgary parishes. He moved to Calgary in 1998.

"Neil is a man of impeccable integrity and steadfast faith, possessing a gentle, generous and loving spirit," McCaffery said. "He is widely acknowledged and respected for his elder statesmanship, his passion for social justice and his sage business acumen."

A lawyer, electrical engineer and father of four, McCrank is currently employed as counsel for the law firm of Borden Ladner Gervais and serves as chair of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Advisory Council on National Security.

Over the years, he has received several prominent awards, including the Alberta Centennial Medal for his contributions to Alberta and the 1992 Canada Medal from the governor general of Canada.


"Neil is a visionary and charismatic leader whose faith, keen intellect and exceptional interpersonal skills have enabled him to attain success in all he has undertaken in the service of God, community and country," McCaffery said.

He praised McCrank for his "remarkable integrity, social and political leadership, relentless pursuit of justice and tireless service to people in need."

In his acceptance speech, McCrank thanked his wife Sue for allowing him the time to pursue his interests and said he was "very pleased" to have been chosen for the award.

He described Irwin as a man with a sense of urgency about everything in his life and said it was that sense of urgency that made Catholic Social Services successful.

"Nothing has ever been delayed until tomorrow and this organization has helped hundreds of thousands of people to improve their lot in life."

Five others were presented with outstanding volunteer service awards at the meeting.

Raquel Collins

Raquel Collins

Raquel Collins, a holistic practitioner, has been a devoted and hands-on volunteer with the Safe House Program for youth at risk of sexual exploitation since 2008.

She uses rela tionship building and a variety of holistic healing practices to help the youth living at Safe House better cope with the stress and trauma of a life lived on the streets.

"On many occasions Rachel has been able to calm the most anxious and over-stimulated youth," said Safe House team leader Rashel Charles, who presented the award to Collins. "Her expertise and support is valued by the Safe House staff team."

Ian Derksen

Ian Derksen

Ian Derksen, a semi-retired building inspector, has volunteered with the Cultural Links Program since 2002. The program helps newcomers practise English, understand Canadian culture and social norms, and learn life skills. Derksen has successfully completed six matches with immigrant families from China, Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia and Bhutan.

He is currently working with a large group of Bhutanese refugees in the Duggan area. Along with English practice and enculturation, Derksen has organized day trips for the Bhutanese newcomers to visit several Alberta attractions. He also helps in the collection of clothing, furniture and small appliances to needy Bhutanese families.

Barbara Pearce

Barbara Pearce

Barbara Pearce, a curriculum development specialist at NorQuest College, is a cooking tutor volunteer with the I Can Cook Program of CSS's Disability Service.

The program helps clients with needs such as healthy nutrition, meal preparation and grocery shopping.

Pearce, formerly a computer tutor, transferred to the cooking program in 2009.

"She adapts written recipes into picture recipes and teaches participants about Canada's food guide, grocery shopping, how to measure ingredients, read ingredient labels and practice kitchen safety," said David Coates, who presented the award to Pearce.

"In five short weeks participants are transformed into confident cooks."

Sr. Lea Desharnais

Sr. Lea Desharnais

Sister Lea Desharnais, a member of the congregation of Notre Dame d'Auvergne, has been an English and conversation tutor with the Learning and Community Enrichment program (LACE) of Immigration and Settlement Service since 2003.

The program provides free, drop-in ESL conversation practice groups at nine Edmonton public libraries. For the past nine years Desharnais has dedicated two mornings a week at the Stanley Milner Library to welcoming newcomers to Canada and helping them successfully adapt to life to Canada.

"Sister Lea is very competent at organizing groups of newcomers by language levels, mentoring four to six volunteers, finding and sharing ESL resource materials and modeling positive intercultural relations," said Samantha Lawrence, who presented the award.

The Fernandez-Connors family has assisted Sister Lourdes Pilapil in the Caring and Sharing program since 2009. The program is a monthly event that provides a venue for fellowship, relationship building, fun and spiritual worship for developmentally and physically disabled adults.

"The Fernandez-Connors volunteers play an active role in helping me plan and execute the well-attended Caring and Sharing gathering," said Pilapil.

"Event set-up, clean-up, greeting and interacting with clients are only a few ways they help me. Without their dedicated commitment, it would be difficult for me to host the Caring and Sharing event."