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Jason Kenney's dilemma: Whatever to do about Conrad?

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Thanks to Chicago Judge Amy St. Eve, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has until Aug. 16 to wriggle off the horns of the dilemma he faces over whatever to do about Conrad Black.

That's how long the judge of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Illinois last Friday grounded Lord Black, the bailed-out former newspaper magnate, within the borders of the American Homeland.

After that, if he submits to her court a humiliatingly thorough accounting of his current reduced financial circumstances, she will reconsider the fate of the man she packed off to jail in 2008.

It turns out that Lord Black pines to return to his native land - notwithstanding the fact the former newspaper owner and Pontifex Maximus of the cult of the right renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 in order to be "elevated" to the British House of Lords. Perhaps with his present pecuniary embarrassments, our single-payer public health care system has acquired an unexpected allure.

Regardless, Judge St. Eve's restrictions on his Lordship's travel itinerary give Mr. Kenney, the self-righteous keeper of Canada's gates, 24 additional days to figure out how to let Lord Black into Canada without appearing to be a lickspittle toady to a man Canadians generally view with discomfort and distrust. One imagines the pressure on Mr. Kenney is almost unbearable.

Talk about a dilemma! Having cast himself in the persona of an immigration tough guy, a vigorous defender of the realm - ready at the drop of a dime, as it were, to bar the national door to foreign riff-raff - he can hardly be seen to be encouraging the admission to Canada a foreign citizen fresh out of jail, with a criminal history and a felonious conviction still in place.

And yet, the foreign riff-raff in this case is not some law-abiding British Parliamentarian who wishes merely to address a Canadian audience on some topic verboten by the Harperite faction of the Reform Party that controls Parliament.

Instead it is a revered figure in the circles inhabited by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the shot caller behind Mr. Kenney, our nation's Nixonian little gatekeeper.

No doubt Mr. Kenney is sadly contemplating the scientifically polled attitudes of ordinary Canadians - the kind of people held in contempt by former-Citizen Black - as he takes calls from his campaign contributors in Lord Black's diminished but still influential circle of Canadian friends.

Add to this pressure the fire lit under Mr. Kenney by the nearly hysterical - and at times hysterically funny - campaign on Mr. Black's behalf by what's left of Canada's mainstream media, which has been lurching further and further to the right since Mr. Black himself founded the National Post in 1998 to assist in that project.

Since, under the circumstances, Lord Black is technically inadmissible to Canada without Mr. Kenney's assistance, and since large numbers of Canadians view Mr. Black as a divisive figure whose attitudes border on unpatriotic, this leaves the minister between the proverbial rock and hard place.

As the Globe and Mail recently reported, Lord Black's "best hope" is to apply to Mr. Kenney for a temporary residence permit, which may be granted "to persons travelling to Canada who might otherwise be turned away at the border for reasons including a past criminal conviction."

The Globe quoted Guidy Mamann, a lawyer and expert on Canadian immigration law, who stated, "the bottom line is, does Conrad Black have friends in the minister's office? That's what it's all going to boil down to."

Well, he does, of course. The questions are, what will those friends do, and what will be the nature of the political fallout for them?

If Mr. Kenney bows to Lord Black's remaining cronies and the campaign in the right-wing gutter press, he must know that he and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be reviled by Canadians.

At the same time, if he if he fails to come across with a Canadian passkey for Lord Black, he will have to suffer gross indignities at the hands of the people he looks up to in the Establishment and his dear friends in the Canadian media.

In an editorial cartoon, Sunmedia has already risibly compared Lord Black to Nelson Mandela - whom Mr. Kenney's former ‘Snackpack' buddy Rob Anders once disgracefully labeled a "terrorist." We can expect much more of this sidesplitting claptrap in the next few days as the media's yellow ribbon campaign for Conrad ratchets up.

It is an interesting situation, not unlike the Perils of Pauline, and we can all enjoy the suspense while we wait with Mr. Kenney and his Lordship to see what Judge St. Eve does next.

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