Court denies Conrad Black's request to speak to Order of Canada advisory panel

TORONTO – The Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed an application by Conrad Black to personally address an advisory council weighing whether he should be stripped of the Order of Canada.

In a decision Monday, the three-justice panel upheld a lower court ruling that denied the former media baron his request for an opportunity to plead his case in person.

Defence lawyer Peter Howard argued that Black should be allowed to defend himself before the council, and not just in writing as the rules set out, because his credibility is being questioned.

“We say the decision before the panel is a personal assessment … (that) could not be made without hearing him,” Howard said. “Mr. Black’s reputation in Canada is at stake.”

He added that the process is flawed because it assumes a foreign conviction is “dishonourable misconduct.”

The 11-member advisory council is currently deciding whether Black’s Order should be revoked following his 2007 convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice in the United States. Black was given Canada’s highest honour in 1990.

In its ruling, Federal Justice John Evans said the panel does not see the advisory council’s decision as potentially damaging because it only makes a recommendation to the Governor General, who has discretion to make a final decision.

“Any reputation damage from him (Black) flows from his convictions,” said Evans.

Five Canadians — Alan Eagleson, David Ahenakew, T. Sher Singh, Stephen Fonyo Jr. and Garth Drabinsky — have been stripped of the Order of Canada. The Governor General’s office said the decisions in these cases were based on various reasons, including being convicted of a criminal offence, a recipient committing actions not befitting of the honour, or a recipient being fined or reprimanded by a professional organization or association.

Black has been involved in a string of legal battles related to his U.S. convictions on fraud and obstruction of justice charges when he was the head of the Hollinger newspaper business.

He filed the appeal a year ago, after the Federal Court ruled against his bid to make a personal pitch in October 2012. He has argued that written submissions won’t give him a fair opportunity to make his “complex” case to the council.

Black has argued repeatedly that the U.S. case against him was the result of an unfair prosecution, pointing to the fact that an appeals court later tossed two of the three fraud convictions against him and two other Hollinger executives.

In the end, he served 37 months of a 42-month sentence in a Florida prison and returned to Canada in May of 2012. He returned under a special temporary permit given that he is no longer a citizen, having renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 so he could accept a peerage in the British House of Lords.

Black, who is now back in Toronto, is a columnist for the National Post and co-hosts a current affairs talk show. He was not at the hearing on Monday.

The Federal Court dismissed the application with costs. Lawyers for both Black and the advisory council turned down requests for further comment. A spokeswoman for the Governor General said that proceedings of the advisory council are confidential and no timeline could be given on when a recommendation will be made.