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By Sid Ryan

The build-up to the trial of media mogul Conrad Black collapsed into surrealism when defence counsel Eddie Greenspan bristled upon hearing his client referred to as Lord Black. Apparently, Greenspan wants to present His Lordship as a regular Joe to the so-called “blue collar” jury in Chicago.

Lord Black of Crossharbour is facing eight counts of fraud totaling over $80 million along with allegations of racketeering, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice — and a potential jail sentence of 101 years. Let me assure you Conrad Black is no ordinary Joe.

For starters, he is neither a Canadian citizen nor landed immigrant, yet is allowed into Canada to launch his defence against the criminal charges he faces in Chicago. Black renounced his Canadian citizenship back in 2001 in order to sit in the British House of Lords. At the time, he gave Canada the finger when he called his Canadian citizenship “an impediment to my progress in a more amenable jurisdiction.”

It appears Lord Black has received favourable treatment from immigration officials, who have turned a blind eye to the fact he is not a Canadian citizen. Non-citizens arriving in Canada and facing criminal charges abroad would normally be arrested and only released after posting a substantial bond. Why the double standard for His Lordship?

Much is being made of the jury selected to hear the charges against Black. Peter Worthington of the Toronto Sun — who gushes effusively over Lord Black in his columns — worries the blue collar workers on the jury are out of their depth. He opines that out of “90-odd potential jurors, I can’t recall more than one or two who seemed aware of what was going on.”

Lord Black won’t have that fear. He is well aware of the understanding blue collar workers have for the machinations of the corporate world. In the early 1980s, Black attempted to plunder $56 million from the pension plan surplus of Dominion grocery store workers. Trade unionists took him to the Supreme Court of Ontario and won. The thesaurus-spouting media baron was unceremoniously forced to put the money back into the pension plan.

Worthington may not have much regard for the intellect of ordinary blue collar workers, but you can bet your boots Lord Black will never underestimate them again.

In many ways, it’s a delicious irony that his Lordship gets to be judged by a jury of ordinary workers, particularly since he has an abysmal record for the manner in which he and his erstwhile friend, admitted felon David Radler, treated their employees down the years.

Radler, Black’s partner and chief hatchet man, swooped down on new corporate acquisitions like the grim reaper, chopping and hacking away at jobs in pursuit of the almighty profit. Never a thought was given to the destroyed dreams of ordinary blue collar workers. Everything was fair game in the pursuit of greed — jobs slashed, families destroyed, pension plans plundered so long as Lord Black could continue to use the corporate jet to fly to Bora Bora and prance around England in fancy dress costumes.

It’s quite amusing to watch Lord Black morph into a cheerleader for all things Canadian ,but in particular our criminal justice system. Not too many years ago, Black, through the editorial pages of his newspapers, would mercilessly rail against the “activist” judicial system in this country. At one point he was so enamoured with the U.S. he advocated Canada eliminate the border and become the 51st state.

Now his lawyer, Eddie Greenspan, is highly critical of the U.S. system of justice, saying “… it’s a jungle and it’s tough. Having been exposed to that process, I have gained a much greater respect for our Canadian process.”

Even David Radler now loves our criminal justice system; so much so that he wants to serve his 29-month prison sentence behind Canadian bars.

As for His Lordship, he will have to wait a few more months before he knows his fate. This past week, Lord Black had to sit and listen to U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Cramer refer to him and his co-accused as “greedy thieves” who stole $60 million US from shareholders.

Funny, I can remember a group of blue collar workers from the Dominion grocery store chain using that very same expression.