CTV’s W5 replayed a documentary called “The Trials of Conrad Black” tonight with Lisa Laflamme interviewing Black and anchoring a variety of glimpses into his homes, his businesses of the past, his wife, Barbara Amiel and the notorious security camera tape of him carrying file boxes out of his office. According to Black he has never committed a crime and is the victim of a combination of stupidity in the US justice system and vindictiveness on the part of people who envy him his success.
He may be correct in these assumptions, as well as in his confession that the way he acted and carried himself for many years invited the outcome he’s struggled under for the past 9 years. He’ll finally be released from prison a week from yesterday.
One thing Black is right about; his return to his Toronto home (as a temporary resident; as a convicted felon he doesn’t qualify for anything more) will not be heralded by brass bands and parades. It’s my sense that a poll of the Canadian public would show that most people here consider him a criminal, despite what he or others might say in his defense.
And therein lies a dilemma, both for Conrad Black and for us. So often, we are faced with the news that someone has been indicted of an offense or tried and found guilty. Unfortunately, we— the general public— don’t have access to the trial proceedings, have little or no background information except the more lurid bits provided in the media, and no good reason to make any assumptions about whether or not the court outcome is just or not.
And yet, we decide. Once a person has been named by the justice system, the assumption needle swings quickly to “guilty” in the eyes of the public. There are, no doubt, logical reasons for this phenomenon, one being the supposition that innocent people don’t get arrested.
Furthermore, we don’t forgive easily, even after a convicted person has served his/her sentence. People who are found not guilty by a court seem often to be assumed to have “gotten away with it” and therefore worse than guilty because of that outcome.
It’s possible that Conrad Black never did anything illegal and was wrongfully convicted. How would I know? It’s certainly a fact that the punishment meted out by the court has been administered and that in the eyes of the law, Black has “done his time,” whether he did the crime or not. But I wouldn’t put big money on the possibility that the general public will help him rehabilitate his reputation.
The rule as seen through this window? Stay out of the justice system, even if it means scrupulously obeying the laws of the land. The alternative is unthinkable, and largely irreversible.