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Proud, stubborn, flawed, brave and unbowed

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Some of my colleagues and friends have been down in Florida for a few days now, there to watch Conrad Black arrive at the Coleman Federal Correction Complex south of Orlando to begin serving his six-and-a-half-year sentence.

For any member of the profession that regularly travels the world on other people's money, it was an almost irresistible boondoggle, the chance to leave the wretched Canadian winter for a few days and soak up some sun while also witnessing the denouement of this man's most incredible downfall. I didn't even make a pitch to join Paul Waldie, The Globe and Mail's stellar reporter who has documented this whole story from start to finish with such even-handedness. I didn't have the heart for any of it.

Lord Black, of course, reported in at what the great defence lawyer Austin Cooper calls "the hoosegow" with the style to which in this country we have long been accustomed.

Yesterday, the very day of his surrender, Lord Black published a long piece in the National Post, the newspaper he founded, in which he stuck to his view of the prosecution against him ("the most comprehensive international defamation I can recall"), proclaimed his innocence ("I believe in the confession and repentance of misconduct, as well as in the punishment of crimes. If I had committed any of the offences charged, I would have pleaded guilty and asked for a sentence that would enable me to atone for my crime and assuage my guilt and shame.") and suggested his convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice were improper (in e-mails and in television interviews his jurors, he said, have "confirmed that there remained a reasonable doubt, but that a compromise was reached on acquittals and convictions, contrary to the judge's instruction.")

In various interviews over the weekend, including one with Mr. Waldie, Lord Black pronounced himself unafraid, optimistic that the appeal of those convictions, likely to be heard in June, will succeed, and predicted that his accusers' sense of triumph will be fleeting.

It is this very sort of thing - his insistence on being right, the haughty wordiness and steadfast refusal to play by anyone's rules or standards but his own - that drives his detractors, and in Canada their number is legion, absolutely nuts.

That's part of the glee that I think many felt at his arrest, trial and perceived comeuppance; well, actually, I know there are many who feel like that because every time I have written about him, I've heard from these folks.

On the last occasion, just before Christmas, I said that Lord Black reminded me of Robert Latimer, the Saskatchewan farmer who in 1993 killed his disabled daughter and had just been denied a chance at day parole - that decision recently has been overturned to much cheering in the country - in that both men believe absolutely that they did nothing wrong and indeed that they had the right to do what they did.

To my astonishment, a good number of my letter-writers believed I had libelled not Lord Black (by comparing him with a daughter-killer, even just in this narrow aspect of character), but rather Mr. Latimer. Such is the depth of feeling there is in the land for Lord Black.

The other part of it, though, I believe has to do with what a friend of mine calls the pettiness that conspires to make our huge nation small.

He was making the point about the interdepartmental rivalries between the military and diplomats on the Afghanistan mission, particularly as they manifested themselves in a quiet little fight over the Strategic Advisory Team.

The SAT, as it's called, is a small, Kabul-based team of high-level military planners, and a few civilians, who are embedded in a few areas of the fragile Afghanistan government in what could be loosely called a capacity-building effort with the fledgling Afghan civil service.

Recently, the SAT was under threat from Canadian diplomats who, while completely unable to staff a small funeral cortege let alone fill those SAT positions with capable members from their own ranks, nonetheless regard capacity-building as their shtick and resented the access to Afghans that these mere soldiers had earned, and so were bent on scuttling the team.

It was in this context my friend wrote, "Canadian values of humility and assistance, which are emblematic of the SAT team, might very well be sacrificed on the altar of vanity, envy and perceived competition. It is no wonder that our allies sometimes raise an eyebrow with respect to Canada. It is equally wondrous that we permit such rivalries to make a great nation small."

So it is also with Lord Black, I think.

In this country, we like our larger-than-life figures (especially if they are rich and powerful) to be modest, on the quiet side, to have dull and equally quiet spouses and preferably to make nice with us regular types. Lord Black is hardly cut from that cloth. He went quietly into no night, a trait exemplified by his fight with the then-sitting prime minister, Jean Chrétien, over his British peerage, best described as a classic pissing match.

In that shemozzle, there was no one smaller-minded than Mr. Chrétien, who used the little-known Nickle Resolution of 1919 (whereby the Canadian Parliament determined the Queen shouldn't confer such honours on Canadians) to deny the man whose newspaper had been such a thorn in his side. But the fellow who lost in the all-important court of public opinion (as well as in the Ontario Court of Appeal) wasn't the self-styled little guy from Shawinigan but the brash press baron, who gave up his Canadian citizenship in order to accept the peerage, a decision that came back to bite him in the rear when he was convicted in Chicago last summer and found himself unable to seek a transfer to a kindlier Canadian prison.

All of which is to say, I think the reason I didn't want to go to Coleman was because I didn't relish the prospect of seeing Lord Black, my former employer at the Post, being humiliated. Silly me: What could I have been thinking? He wasn't humiliated. He was proud, stubborn, flawed, brave and unbowed. Good for him.

I hope he starts up a little paper in the joint.

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