By Frank Moher
Naomi Klein characterized the trial of Conrad Black as class war. Elsewhere it was posited as a case of dueling tax systems (Canadian v. U.S.) or legal systems (ibid.)
I’d say, though, it was a broader culture clash than that, between the populist traditions of the United States (of whom prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, working-class Irish kid made good, is an avatar) and the seigneurial system that still lingers in Canada, and which Black so avidly embraced. That Black has been brought low by the very nation he offered up as a model to self-effacing Canada — and which, perhaps, he disastrously misunderstood — is the bitterest irony of the affair.
I’ve never shared others’ high estimation of him as a writer and thinker. I was once given an essay by him to edit for Saturday Night. Thinking it abysmally written, I returned it to my superior heavily marked-up for revision. Of course, it ran as written. (I was later told Black also found the fact-checking process irritating and put in a call to have it stopped; there’d be no questioning of the proprietor’s knowledge.)
Still, I take no pleasure in today’s results. Like a lot of Canadian journalists (but certainly not all), I benefited from Black’s adventuring in media — his keeping Saturday Night alive for a time, and creating The National Post. Whether readers benefited as much is still debated fervently — it probably depends on which reader and which publication you’re talking about — but there is no doubt he changed the Canadian newspaper landscape permanently.
And he was a massive, anarchic force in our country: vexing the natural governing party, giving our own grey-lady, The Globe, a run for its establishment money, and demonstrating that Upper Canadian business could be about something more than, say, collecting life insurance premiums. He even subverted the international order of things by putting luminaries like Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher on the Hollinger board, and hence on its payroll — the only assertion of preeminence available to a colonial pup.
Alas, it turns out some of the money he used to do this wasn’t his to use. The Canadian system of justice, such as it is, might have looked the other way, but there was no way the Americans would. Black’s right about one thing, then: we do have a thing or two to learn from the U.S. But I can’t enjoy today’s verdict. Canada needs all the provocateurs it can get, and this one’s going to get locked up.