The case for talking to the Order of Canada council

TORONTO – Conrad Black has a way with words, government lawyers say, and the Order of Canada advisory council is well aware of that — he gave them a copy of his latest book.

Federal lawyers are set to argue in court Friday that Black should have no trouble making written arguments to the council deciding the status of his Order of Canada membership, documents show.

Black, 67, is asking Federal Court to force the advisory council to allow him an oral hearing as it decides whether to recommend the Governor General revoke Black’s prestigious membership, bestowed upon him in 1990.

His lawyers are arguing that his case is too complex to be handled in writing — the only medium Order of Canada rules allow. The former media magnate went to Federal Court after his request to make arguments in person was denied.

But documents filed in advance of Friday’s hearing show federal lawyers are relying on Black’s own prowess with prose to argue that he doesn’t need oral arguments to make his voice heard.

“Mr. Black is an accomplished author who suffers no disadvantage in communicating in writing,” the filing states.

“Indeed, he has provided the council with a copy of his book on the subject of his convictions which runs over 500 pages.”

Published last year, the book, “A Matter of Principle,” is 592 pages.

The council can recommend members of the order be stripped of their status, but the final decision rests with Canada’s Governor General.

Government lawyers are set to argue that Black’s argument that stripping him of the status would negatively impact his rights is unfounded, since “there is no right or legitimate expectation to an honour.”

“The privileges associated with membership in the Order of Canada are purely symbolic,” they say in the court filing.

Black was convicted in the United States of fraud and obstruction of justice while he was head of media giant Hollinger International. He served 37 months of a 42-month sentence, but contends he was unfairly maligned by the U.S. justice system.

The ex-media baron may try to “re-litigate” his guilty verdict if he were to appear before the advisory council, the government lawyers will argue.

“It is simply not the function of the advisory council to reconsider the merits of Mr. Black’s conviction,” they write.

In an affidavit sworn last month, Black says he would make his case in an oral hearing “through witnesses as well as documentary evidence” about “the history of injustices” he experienced in the U.S. courts and related matters.

Black has had “three separate invitations” to send along written representations, but has made only one five-page submission, the government lawyers note.

The Order of Canada’s 11-member advisory council, chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, may recommend to the Governor General that an appointment be rescinded when a member has been convicted of a criminal offence, or if their conduct strays significantly from recognized standards of public behaviour.

Black did not return a request for comment Thursday.

He recently returned to Canada on a temporary resident permit following his May release from a Florida prison, as he renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 to become a member of the British House of Lords.

Earlier this month, a group of lawyers accused the Harper government of influencing the decision to approve Black’s application to return to Canada, a claim fiercely denied by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

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