Conrad Black is calling on Ottawa to stop "fumbling around" and take responsibility for a Canadian war memorial in London, England,that has been neglected since the former media baron's fall left it without a benefactor.
The Canada Memorial, built to honour those who fought and died alongside Britons in both world wars, has recently become overrun with children and dogs playing on the inclined red Canadian shield granite structure in central London's Green Park, a few hundred metres from Buckingham Palace.
Funded by the private sector and designed by Montreal sculptor Pierre Granche, the monument was inaugurated by the Queen in 1994 at a ceremony attended by the Royal Family, then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and other dignitaries.
As Black's luck began fading, the memorial has fallen into a state of disrepair. Water that used to stream over the bronze maple leaves inset in the granite are sporadically off as pumps break down.
The Montreal-born Black was convicted in July of obstruction of justice and three counts of fraud following a trial in which U.S. prosecutors alleged the former head of the Hollinger newspaper chainand three others improperly siphoned millions of dollars from the company.
"If I wasn't preoccupied with other things, I would raise or contribute a fund adequate to assure maintenance," Black wrote in his e-mail.
Canada's High Commission in London told CBC there's not much it can do since it doesn't have legal control of the monument. Officials say they have searched for the owners for the past year, but with no success.
"The High Commission's explanation is bunk," writes Black.
He says ownership is irrelevant and the war memorial is a Canadian responsibility. The idea that British authorities would object if someone fixed and maintained the monument is "absurd," writes Black.
"It is scandalous that the High Commission has been fumbling around with this for a year," said Black.
|Excerpt from Conrad Black's e-mail:|
But it seems someone knew who the owner was. Veterans Affairs officials told CBC News that the owners were contacted last year, but rejected an offer of help.
"As they declined our offer, it wasn't pursued as actively thereafter," said Derrek Sullivan of Veterans Affairs.
Sullivan adds, however, that there's not much the Canadian government can do since there are thousands of memorials erected by private groups that fall to the wayside.
Black, who has been called a "father figure" behind the monument's creation, says he took over maintenance of the project when a group of elderly officers ran out of time and money to ensure its upkeep.
Then, when the Canada Memorial Foundation ran out of money he helped raise to build the memorial, Black invited Chrétien and his minister at Veterans Affairs to contribute to its maintenance. Both declined.
Black says he and the Daily Telegraph funded the memorial until the U.K. newspaper was sold in 2004 and the disgraced businessman left London.
Now, he says Ottawa should pay for the orphaned monument.
"Obviously the government of Canada should maintain the Memorial which only costs about $25,000 per year," the e-mail says, adding someone should be sent to periodically clear the leaves and check the machinery.
"Is that too much to ask for our veterans? I would hope not. Canada is one of the world's wealthiest countries and has a glorious military history. It owes its veterans this much at least," he writes.