Is there anyone left in Canada today who holds fallen media mogul Conrad Black in high esteem?
How about sympathy, doesn’t anyone feel a pang of fellow-feeling for a man nearing retirement age who faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison?
There are so many things to dislike about Baron Black of Crossharbour, not least that he seems to have no idea what a ridiculous figure he cut in the regalia of a purchased peerage.
His conspicuous consumption is despicable – how many mansions does one family require?
His self-regard is laughable, considering he was rich and well-connected on the day he was born. His career at Upper Canada College, that training ground for the sons of the aristocracy, came to an abrupt end when he was caught selling exam papers.
Black’s $62 million cash-grab of the Argus pension fund surplus ran perilously close to theft, and was reversed by the courts, though Black defended the action all the way to the Supreme Court.
He has been open in his contempt for journalists, Canada and the lower classes, and his willingness to abandon his Canadian citizenship to pursue foreign adventures did nothing to endear him to his country of birth.
Whatever regard the public might have for Black the clever businessman with the acumen to amass great wealth evaporates in the face of his privileged beginnings and his crooked dealings.
The ability to be born rich and cook the books doesn’t earn you much respect with the great unwashed.
Convicted in Chicago of several counts of fraud, Black could face up to 35 years in prison with no hope of parole in this lifetime.
As a foreigner, he stands little chance of being sent to the kind of “club fed” prison most US corporate perps attend.
Quite naturally, Black would like to get his citizenship back, and if he must go to prison, do so in Canada, where sentences are lighter and prisons less crowded.
In this he faces certain difficulties.
Having renounced his citizenship, he’s not eligible to reapply until he’s spent a year in the country, and as a non-citizen and a convicted felon, our borders are sealed to him.
It’s a legal cleft stick from which Black has only one potential saviour.
Immigration Minister Diane Finley could grant him permanent residency on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.
But why should she? Black despises Canada, and Canada despises Black.
What Finley must take into account, and where Canadians may find some sympathy in their heart for even so loathsome a former citizen, is that the US is in the grip of a prison fetish so all-consuming that there is no longer any reasonable connection between crime and punishment.
In the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, BBC 4 conducted a four-month investigation into conditions inside American prisons.
They found clear evidence of abuse of a sort ominously similar to that suffered by Iraqi detainees, including men bitten by dogs, dragged across the floor by handcuffed arms, stress-positioned, raped, pepper sprayed and beaten, sometimes to death.
Despite resistance from prison authorities, reporters unearthed video and eye-witness evidence of torture, and murder.
Conrad Black is not of the class of human being who runs a high risk of being beaten to death by prison guards.
Even the most discredited millionaire isn’t treated like ordinary prisoners, whose most minor infractions can be punished with tasers and chemical sprays, sometimes resulting in death.
But torture, rape, and murder are only the worst abuses in a continuum of American prison madness, and excessive sentences fall somewhere on that same graph.
People are locked up for the most minor offences, more major offences are treated far more harshly than in any other western nation, and mandatory minimum sentences rob judges of discretion.
It’s a Draconian system, and if Canada has the ability to rescue a human being from its clutches, we should do so, no matter how little we respect that human being.
Canada could have given Black special dispensation to remain a citizen when he went off in pursuit of his silly English title.
It’s widely believed that the prime minister of the day, Jean Chretien, refused to grant that favour because Black’s newspapers had shown too much interest in Chretien’s own questionable business affairs.
Black stole from shareholders and tried to obstruct justice, and he deserves to suffer the consequences, assuming that those consequences are reasonable.
But how reasonable is the American justice system today?
As a fair and just society, Canada should forgive Black’s arrogance and foolishness, save him from an American jail, and let him face the music here.
Canada is unlikely to open its heart to Black, but the least we could do is open our prison gates.
He deserves to be punished, not buried alive.