Poor Conrad Black! For some reason, despite repeated attempts, he is unable to convince anyone that he is not a criminal.
Out of jail and back in England – his adopted country after giving up his Canadian citizenship to become a member of the House of Lords – Black was interviewed by British television journalist Jeremy Paxman on BBC Two’s Newsnight (Oct. 23).
When Paxman insisted on referring to Black as a convicted criminal, Black artfully tried to convince him otherwise.
He explained that the American justice system that had convicted him is the worst in the civilized world, populated with a larger percentage of the nation’s population than any other Western nation, but the resolute Paxman refused to accept Black’s reasoning.
Instead he insisted that Black’s conviction and subsequent 37-month prison sentence was in and of itself enough to label Black a criminal.
This blind acceptance of the conventional definition of a criminal and the rejection of Black’s assertion, that his actions cannot be criminal because he says they’re not, proved too much for Black, who rightfully lashed out, labelling Paxman “a priggish, gullible, British fool.”
Apparently the three years behind bars, mingling with the hundreds of other wrongfully convicted inmates persuaded Black that he was not alone, that in addition to the many innocent white-collar fraudsters in the Big House, there were dope dealers, car thieves, and B&E specialists, who like Black should receive clemency, not incarceration.
This alignment with the plight of so many common men represents a great shift in Black’s thinking for which the public should give him credit.
Long considered an insufferable, egocentric, elitist megalomaniac, Black has now obviously adopted a kinder, gentler outlook. This became clear during the interview when, though he felt like “smashing (Paxman’s) face in,” he restrained himself, saying that he didn’t believe in violence.
No doubt Black’s new-found sympathy for the common man will make him an even more valuable member of the House of Lords, where he should be able to put his ability to identify and challenge “priggish, British fools” to frequent good use.
In that regard, one can only hope that he is not stripped of his Lordship, a title that he believes he not only deserves but was destined to acquire.
And indeed, it is hard to argue that it is not a just reward for a man who, out of proud, single-minded adherence to his own higher principles, divested himself of his Canadian citizenship and defiantly thumbed his nose at both the unjust American legal system and the rabble clamouring to permanently remove his entitlement as an Officer in the Order of Canada.
Such principled behaviour in the face of almost universal vilification and condemnation deserves a level of respect and admiration that is hard, if not impossible, to measure.
– Jim Holtz is WEEKENDER columnist and former reporter for the Grand Forks Gazette