Governor General David Johnston is a distinguished lawyer, so he surely understands the importance of precedent, both as a practical and symbolic matter.
Now, early in his term as Canada’s vice-regal personage, Johnston is faced with the urgent need to act decisively to protect a cherished Canadian institution.
I speak, of course, of the Order of Canada, and the pressing requirement that the notorious and unrepentant felon, Conrad Moffat Black, lately a resident of Coleman, Fla., be removed from the ranks of the Order’s membership post-haste.
It is mildly ironic and powerfully symbolic that Black, also known as Baron Black of Crossharbour, failed yesterday in his continuous and apparently well-funded efforts to have the United States Supreme Court overturn his 2007 conviction for fraud and obstruction of justice less than a week after 43 distinguished Canadians were invested with the nation’s highest civilian honour in a ceremony at Rideau Hall.
In 2007, Black was found guilty by a jury in Chicago of defrauding Hollinger Inc., the publicly held newspaper holding company that he led, and sentenced to six and a half years in the federal institution at Coleman.
Since then, it has been argued here and elsewhere that the former newspaper owner’s continued presence as an Officer of the Order of Canada, which he was awarded in 1990, is a stain on this hallowed national institution. However, for reasons known only to herself and her close advisors, whomever they may have been, the previous Governor General declined to use her prerogative as the chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order to purge it of this blot.
The suggestion has been made, though never officially confirmed, that the Governor General’s staff at Rideau Hall were waiting for Black’s attempts to clear his name to run their course. This has now happened, and there is no excuse for allowing this convicted criminal to remain an Officer of the Order.
Last fall, a U.S. appeals court upheld Black’s conviction on one count of fraud, as well as for obstructing justice, while overturning two other fraud convictions against the former Canadian.
Black had renounced his citizenship in 2001 because the government of what he called this “Third World dump run by raving socialists” would not allow him to accept a British baronetcy. This minor title of British nobility entitled Black to a seat in the House of Lords. Apparently this sort of foreign frippery was more important to the former Toronto resident than the honour of being a Canadian citizen.
After the fall ruling by the American appeals court, counsel for Black proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court proclaiming their intention to see the remaining charges overturned. Yesterday, however, the Justices of the Supreme Court refused to hear Black’s arguments in a brief order, unaccompanied by further commentary.
This means that Black must return to court in Chicago on June 24 for re-sentencing on the two convictions that still stand.
Black, who continues to refuse to take responsibility for the actions for which he was criminally convicted in our neighbouring democracy, a country where the Canadian government is clearly persuaded the rule of law prevails with regard to the treatment of Canadian citizens, has made blustering statements that he will continue the fight to remain at large.
Perhaps he may succeed. After two and a half years in jail and the U.S. Supreme Court’s earlier redefinition of the legal theory used to convict him, he may very well be deemed to have served enough time for his crimes already. But whether or not the door to the room where Black lays his head at night is barred is not the issue here.
He is in fact a person who departed “from generally recognized standards of public behaviour” and who was “convicted of a criminal offense,” both grounds for revocation of membership in the Order under Article 3 of the Policy and Procedure for Termination of Appointment to the Order Of Canada.
We among the hoi polloi know this, because this was precisely the argument advanced by Johnston’s predecessor as Governor General in 2010 when she gave the tragic one-legged runner and cancer fund-raiser Steve Fonyo the bum’s rush from the Order after a series of minor criminal convictions.
Arguably, Fonyo made a more valuable contribution to Canadian life than the fractious Black.
Regardless, hockey commentator Howie Meeker, musician Robbie Robertson and actor and fund-raiser Michael J. Fox, all invested in the Order last Friday, are great Canadians. Conrad Black is not. Indeed, Black is not even a Canadian!
It is time for Johnston to earn his salary and strike Black’s name from the rolls of the Order forthwith! Anything less disgraces the Order.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.