Lord Conrad Black of Canada
Conrad Black has contributed enormously to Canada's public life. It is time for him to be allowed back home.
Now that Conrad Black is released from prison, where does he go?
He’d like to go home, to the house his parents built and that he lovingly enlarged.
That is out of the question for now: The terms of Black’s bail require him to remain in the continental United States until the courts have finished their review of his sentence.
But suppose the courts do agree to remit the balance of Black’s sentence in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent 9-0 verdict in his favor. He still will not be allowed to return to his home permanently, because he is no longer a Canadian citizen.
Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001. Some represent this decision as some kind of insult to Canada, almost next door to treason. (See for example the very ugly editorial in Thursday’s Sun newspapers: “[Conrad Black] is no Canadian patriot. He gave up his birthright, relinquished his Canadian passport, and sneered his way past lesser mortals as he donned the title of Lord Black of Crossharbour.”)
This view is wrong and unfair. Black renounced his Canadian citizenship because the federal government of the day pursued a unique vendetta against him. Black had acquired British citizenship, too. As a British citizen, Black was offered a seat in the House of Lords. The Chretien government took the view that no Canadian could accept such an honor. The legalities of the situation were complex, but let’s just say: This view was an extreme interpretation of Canadian law — and probably not an interpretation that the Chretien government would have taken had the case involved a Conrad White or Conrad Green rather than Conrad Black.
But at the same time as Black was living much of the year in Britain, he was also generously supporting Canadian institutions: sustaining this newspaper, building a wing at the Hospital for Sick Children.
That chapter in his life is closed now. If his request for a reduction in sentence succeeds, the next chapter will likely soon open.
Black will very likely apply for a reinstatement of his Canadian citizenship. The decision is discretionary, in the hands of the federal cabinet. Here’s why they should say yes:
- Black’s original renunciation was an act of political protest against a government that sought to limit his rights as a British citizen. Hundreds of thousands of Canadian citizens carry dual citizenship, and Canada would not ask them to renounce rights under their second nationality in order to keep their Canadian nationality.
- There are serious considerations of inequity here. Black’s business partner David Radler is welcome to live in Vancouver, although he was a full partner in whatever wrongdoing occurred at Hollinger. It seems very strange that only one of the two men should be disqualified as a Canadian.
- Black’s wife is a Canadian citizen. Canadian policy would normally favor unification of a husband with his Canadian wife.
- If Black did wrong, he has been severely punished for it. Not only has he endured criminal prosecution, but he also faces civil lawsuits and now an action by the IRS for back taxes. To pile one more penalty on his head seems harshly punitive — and of all penalties, exile is the cruellest.
- Perhaps the government is hesitating over reinstatement because it fears the political consequences? Of seeming to favor a (once) rich and (still) famous man? But if the government would say yes to a similar petition from somebody less rich and famous, it seems again inequitable to deny Black’s petition in order to avoid the appearance of favoritism. Fairness does not require that we treat the rich and famous more harshly than we treat the non-rich and non-famous.
Whatever else you say about Conrad Black, he is truly an eminent Canadian, who has contributed enormously to the country’s public life. It is time for him to be allowed home.
Originally published in the National Post.