Former media baron and convicted felon Conrad Black has engineered his return to Canada, a country whose citizenship he once renounced in pursuit of a British peerage.
The former newspaper magnate is expected to be released from a Florida prison on Friday after completing a 42-month sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice.
As The Globe and Mail reported online on Tuesday, the Canadian government has granted Lord Black legal permission to live here, putting the former head of the Hollinger newspaper chain in a position to rebuild his personal and public life with wife, Barbara Amiel, in Toronto.
One source familiar with Lord Black’s release plans said he is hoping to leave prison this week and fly directly to Canada.
News that Lord Black, a polarizing figure among Canadians, has been given permission to reside in this country sent Parliament into a frenzy on Tuesday.
The NDP’s Tom Mulcair, Official Opposition Leader, interrupted his scheduled plan of attack during Question Period in the House of Commons to decry the fact that the “British criminal Conrad Black” will be allowed to return while other deserving applicants were turned away.
The Department of Citizenship and Immigration gave Lord Black a one-year temporary-resident permit after determining he’s no risk to Canadians, in part because his high profile will draw scrutiny.
“Subject does not pose a threat to the Canadian public and is of such notoriety that his every move will be now watched with respect to his business dealings,” says a document from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
Ottawa’s decision to re-admit Lord Black, who gave up his Canadian citizenship in 2001, was made in mid-March, The Globe and Mail has learned. His $200 fee for the permit was received by Citizenship and Immigration on March 20, 2012.
However, the Conservative government suggested to reporters on Monday that a decision had yet to be made.
When the news broke on Tuesday, however, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney distanced himself from the ruling, saying it was made by “highly trained” public servants rather than their Conservative political masters. Mr. Kenney told reporters that when he learned of the application in February, he instructed immigration officials to handle it themselves.
Lord Black’s temporary resident permit is valid from early May, 2012, until early May, 2013. Securing this permit is the first step toward winning back Canadian citizenship, should Lord Black wish to do so.
News of the former media baron’s return caused a spike in debate on Twitter about the value of Canadian citizenship, with some opposing the return of a man who had relinquished his claim to this country.
“I think he should be allowed back in this country for 24 hours – long enough to strip him of his Order of Canada,” New Democrat MP Pat Martin said.
Lady Black and some friends have remained loyal to Lord Black throughout his ordeal.
It’s unclear, however, whether the businessman will enjoy the same social status as he did back when he led a company that controlled one of the biggest newspaper empires in the world.
Senator Linda Frum said she’s pleased Lord Black is coming home. She said she was not aware of any gatherings being planned to welcome him back, but added: “I’m confident there will be many friends delighted to host one for him.”
Lord Black’s latest book, A Matter of Principle, which chronicles his U.S. trial and conviction, is nominated for a National Business Book award.
The winner will be announced on May 28 in Toronto. There was no indication on Tuesday whether Lord Black will attend.
The Montreal-born businessman was convicted in Chicago in 2007 of three counts of fraud and one count of obstruction of justice over the misappropriation of money at newspaper giant Hollinger International Inc. He was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison.
He launched several appeals, including one to the U.S. Supreme Court that ended up causing part of the U.S. fraud statute to be rewritten. Those appeals led to the reversal of two fraud convictions, and he was re-sentenced to 42 months in prison.
He has been completing that sentence at a prison in Miami.
Lord Black declined to comment, and his legal team was also tight-lipped on Tuesday.
However, his lawyers remain concerned that U.S. officials could hold up his departure, because as a foreigner, Lord Black is facing deportation, likely to Britain, where he has citizenship.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials usually issue a “detainer” notice, alerting prison officials that a person must be turned over to Immigration officers upon his release. If this happens to Lord Black, he would be held in an immigration detention centre to await deportation, which could take several weeks.
However, Lord Black’s lawyers are hoping to have the “detainer” waived so he can leave the prison and make his way back to Canada immediately. It’s not clear if the order has been waived, but documents viewed by The Globe and Mail indicate that U.S. authorities would permit Lord Black to return to Canada if they were satisfied that he had a temporary residency permit in time.
Sources close to Lord Black did not know details of the plans for his departure, or whether he is required to have a federal escort. But one suggested the arrangements will be “quite elegant.”
Lord Black’s resident permit approval is not a rare decision for Citizenship and Immigration.
In 2011, the department issued about 11,000 Temporary Resident Permits to people wishing to reside in Canada.
Of these, about 6,500 temporary resident permits were issued to help individuals with criminal records.
With a report from Renata D’Aliesio