Unrepentant and unbowed, former media baron and convicted felon Conrad Black insists he never asked the Harper government for help in returning to Canada and accuses the NDP’s newest leader of “demagogic rabblerousing” for alleging otherwise.
Lord Black, who gave up his Canadian citizenship years ago to obtain a British peerage, became a target for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair after he secured a one-year temporary-resident permit from Ottawa even while still residing in a Florida jail.
The former newspaper magnate entered Canada May 4 after being released from a Florida prison where he had been serving a 42-month sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice.
In an interview with CBC’s The National, Lord Black maintains that he was unjustly convicted – “I was shafted.” – and says he’s working to try to overturn the convictions. “Keep in mind, I won 99 per cent of this case.”
He said after Mr. Mulcair attacked the temporary-resident permit in the Commons as special treatment for “Conservative cronies,” he had worried the Harper government might rescind it.
“I deliberately had absolutely no contact direct or indirect with anyone,” Lord Black said of Mr. Harper’s cabinet. “Yes, at times in the past, I’ve known the Prime Minister and the minister of immigration and a number of other prominent members of the government,” he said.
“[But]I said we will make no overture to them at all.”
He challenged Mr. Mulcair to step outside the Commons – where MPs enjoy parliamentary immunity for their comments – and accuse him of improper attempts to influence public figures.
“It would certainly be my pleasure to sue him for defamation.”
He said his lawyer, who dealt with Citizenship and Immigration, spoke to 30 officials and “every single one said ‘Yes, this man should be admitted.’ ”
The NDP Leader, who holds a French passport in addition to his Canadian one, has derisively referred to Lord Black as a “British criminal.”
Lord Black said he could call Mr. Mulcair “a French defamer” if he chose, “and with more justice.”
He said the NDP Leader’s “cheap shot” was unbecoming. “I remember Tommy Douglas and Dave Lewis and Ed Broadbent and Audrey McLaughlin. They never would have done anything like that.”
Lord Black, 67, said he would like to move beyond his conviction rather than being “stigmatized for life … like a medieval leper, with bells on my head to warn the unsuspecting of the approach of moral taint and turpitude.”
He said it’s “un-Canadian” to repeatedly bring up the conviction, calling it a “constant sadistic reference to my alleged status according to the trumped-up system of the palace of corruption and hypocrisy of a courthouse in Chicago.”
Lord Black said he would like to apply to regain his Canadian citizenship after the controversy has settled – “when it is clear that I don’t have cloven feet and horns” – but said he won’t do so if it prompted a major backlash.
“I [have]reached the age where I’m tired of being oppressed and I’m tired of being defamed and I am not going to do anything that is going to lead to gratuitously antagonistic people making apparently plausible claims that I am morally unsuited to be a citizen of this country.”
Lord Black, who did two stints in Florida prisons, said the toughest part of his second stay was just after he arrived. “The worst was when I just watched Barbara’s car drive away and thought to myself ... ‘Here I am back in one of these ghastly, stupid, banal American prisons for another eight months for things I didn’t do. I’m in my 60s and what the hell am I doing here?’ ”
Lord Black declined to revisit past criticism of the Harper government’s anti-crime agenda, saying that “since I am not technically a citizen, it’s not my place to come in here on a temporary resident permit and get up on a soap box and harangue the government.”
He rejected the notion that the misfortune of recent years represents a tragedy, suggesting those who hold that view are “not very good tragedians,” because “a tragedy is somebody who dies in a plane crash at the age of 28 or has a splendid career and completely destroys [it]”
Lord Black said he doesn’t plan to retire but was coy on what he’ll pursue beyond writing. “There’s some interesting prospects. But since they’re not public companies I don’t talk about them.”
Lord Black said people have repeatedly written him off only to have been proved wrong.
“There have been plenty of people prepared to announce that I was a flash in the pan or self-destructed or was finished or something. But I always disappoint them. I’ll go on doing that for a while.”
While he declined to attack the Conservative government’s crackdown on crime, Lord Black said he believes locking up non-violent offenders is wrong.
“It’s done because it’s always been done but it is nonsense. It is not the way to treat them. It’s horribly expensive. It’s tokenistic, fetishistic – and a matrix for the magnification of abuse and the exacerbation of sociopathic problems.”
He didn’t rule out returning to the U.S. one day, but said it wouldn’t be imminent.
“I would never say never and I assume that I will and time heals most wounds. But I have no ambition to go back anytime soon.”
Lord Black said he hungered for silence after the constant hubbub of prison life.
“When you’ve been even eight months, as I was, with constant noise, it’s amazing what a longing develops for such silence, pristine silence,” he said.
He said he intended to keep writing but couldn’t imagine using Twitter, the popular Internet-based messaging system, to tweet his thoughts. “The idea of twittering is bothersome to me.”