Black and Blue … an “Old Boy” on trial

At first glance, its hard to see what a moderately successful 40 year old professional computer geek and writer might have in common with a 62 year old international media tycoon, but Conrad Black and I actually do share a common thread in our lives, albeit one that is from our childhoods, 20-some years apart. Despite all odds, and despite wholly different backgrounds and families 3000 miles apart, both Conrad and I are un-graduated Old Boys of one of Canada’s most elite private schools. In my case, as a scholarship boarding student at Upper Canada College for my grade 10 and 11 years, I returned to my home in Alberta for my grade 12 year in part to avoid the grade 13 of the Ontario school system, and in part because of the costs to my working class family, even with the full scholarship. Most of my life from the fall of 1981 to the spring of 1983, with the exception of summers and holidays, was spent in Toronto, boarding at UCC.

Mr. Black, on the other hand, who is currently on trial in Chicago for fraud in regard to his business and personal dealings with the media giant Hollinger International, had an even less illustrious history with the school. In one of the more infamous examples of UCC student lore, Conrad broke into the Principal’s office to steal and sell the final exams, and was expelled when his scheme was discovered. Since Black came from a wealthy Toronto family as a day student to UCC, our experiences at the school couldn’t have been more different, I expect, but i think its interesting that we have even that connection.

In many ways, Black’s expulsion from UCC serves as a premonition, of sorts, of things to come. Back in his school days, Black used the wealth and privilege around him to enrich himself using questionable tactics, and decades later, he is on trial for very much the same thing with these fraud charges. Peter C. Newman, a very respected Canadian journalist with a long history covering Black (and, in the interest of FULL disclosure, also a UCC Old Boy and a fellow former Seatonian) was interviewed outside the courthouse in Chicago on CBC Newsworld the day the trial started, and he made a fascinating comment that makes so much sense to me, even having never met Black. Neumann said that initially, he thought there were only two possibilities in this case … that Black was stupid, which Newman knew wasn’t true, or that he was lying, which Newman also found hard to believe. And thats when he says he stumbled on the third option … that despite all evidence to the contrary, Black truly believes he’s done nothing wrong in all this.

One of the main functions of UCC throughout its long history in Canada has been training the children of the “elite” in Canadian society, politics and business, and part of the education there is naturally a sense of ability and destiny. But theres a dark side to that as well, and this trouble that Black finds himself in is an extension of it … UCC is also a breeding ground for a sense of entitlement that strikes me as very compatible with “forced non-compete fees” paid personally to Black, the very heart of his criminal difficulties. Its too strong to say UCC is responsible for that sort of sense of entitlement, but that it was fostered and bred there during my years are undeniable from my memories. UCC would never teach law-breaking … its very mission is precisely opposed to that … but one of the main “lessons” I took away from my years at 200 Lonsdale was a learned ability to break the rules without getting caught. Its clear that Conrad never quite got that last part of the lesson, but it strikes me that the way he got into this situation is very much in tune with that theme.

There was a lot of good to be found during my two years there, but as has been apparent in the media over recent years, there has always been a dark undercurrent to UCC. Conrad’s troubles certainly weren’t caused by UCC in any way … they were caused by his own actions. But in those actions, I recognize a lot of what I remember from my days in the early 80’s in UCC’s Seaton’s boarding house. There are many positive things I took from my time there, but in Conrad Black and his behaviour, I see a reminder of some of the negative to be had there as well. I don’t know Conrad Black at all, but in these charges, and in his public demeanor through the media, I see much that is familiar.

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One Response

  1. You might look up Mr. Black’s invovlement in the selling of Dominion Stores Ltd. He was acccused and brought to trail by former employess who had discovered some 30 to 40 million dollars missing from their pension fund. I believe it was eventually returned, but not with out a fight. My, how history repeats itself.

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