Should Conrad Black Come Back?

Rex Murphy on Conrad Black and whether or not he should return to Canada.

Rex Murphy on Conrad Black and whether or not he should return to Canada.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

Everyone in Canada has an opinion on Conrad Black – he is as tough as an alder, as un-ignorable as the Continental Shelf.  Weather systems have had less impact on Canada than Conrad Black.

Mr. Black, or to revert to the full, rolling nomenclature with which he delights to cloak himself, Baron Lord Black of Crossharbour, may have resigned his citizenship after quarrelling with the brittle and long-memoried Jean Chretien – but Mr.Black is himself a living piece of Canadiana. He may, in pique or on purpose, have given up on Canada, but Canada cannot extricate itself from him.   

On whether he should be allowed to return to Canada, now that he is out of durance vile – done his time – the whole country – I suspect even the wildflife – has in coffee shop or column, weighed in.

Mr. Black has a strong talent for abrading his enemies and swaddling his fans. He has a formidable and lavishly exercised sense of scorn and deep wells of vintage sarcasm. He collects foes like others collect china. He has (or had) – though this will never be allowed by him – a talent, an almost unappeasable appetite for bringing massive trouble onto himself. He was -- to a degree -- complicit in the miseries that lately befell him.  

We must note, however, that he despises most journalists, so, mindful of W.C. Field’s excellent example, he really cannot be all bad.  

On the other hand, take some notice please of how he has handled himself since the great fall. A man of deep, even radical, self-regard and pride, he has weathered the hisses of his foes, the desertion of life-long friends, the elaborate pursuit of a special prosecutor – and never hidden, withdrawn or bowed his head. Mr. Black doesn’t wince or duck.

He took his punishment manfully, found fellowship with those he would never otherwise have even known of, continued to write and never once withdrew from the glare of the media or the gloating of his many critics. Radler ratted. Black stood his ground. He deserves credit for this.

I don’t think he should get any special treatment and if anyone can really show he has received some – then by all means bar him.   

But neither should he be scourged for personal qualities: like his admirable taste for plain words and short sentences and a prose style that breathed humility down to the last demotic monosyllable.

Nor should the nursed animosities of chartered Black-haters keep him out of his home in Toronto and away from his deeply cared-for wife. Her steadfastness and loyalty during this painful twilight has about it very much to admire; and will we not all agree that compassion has some claim on the Canadian soul?

It’s easy or small to pile on now. He went to trial. Fought. Lost. Served his time – even the second ‘return’ to jail – all without whining. But more. Conrad Black, like him or not, has added colour and texture to this country. He’s a whole chapter in the story. Chasing him out of it now, or howling for one more indignity, has more a quality of petty vengeance and sneering righteousness than justice.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.