Most of the criminal cases we deal with are resolved in Provincial Criminal Court with as little attention as possible and without any lingering questions. This is the way we like it. The nice thing about the court in BC is that, even if you disagree with the outcome, it still usually makes sense.
Until the IRP scheme came into place, this is the way we thought of the law in Canada — it is not always what we would like it to be, but it still makes sense. If you have been through an IRP review, then you know that it may only make sense in Bizarro World. For us this undermined our understanding of how things work in Canada. Clearly justice is different in different countries, and we need to remember that it is different at different times. Although the general trend over the centuries is toward more sensible forms of justice, there are steps back such as we have seen with the IRP scheme. Justice is like ice cream. Sometimes you don’t get any.
As case in point is Conrad Black. He is due to be released from a Florida prison this week, having served a sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice. Of course, Mr. Black ran Hollinger, a publicly traded company that was very successful and he made a lot of money. And he is a super smart guy. Their success was largely a result of his drive and business acumen. The problem was, like many CEOs who have been in the position for years such that they are almost synonymous with the company, Mr. Black used company money like it was his own. He believed, and not without justification, that it was part of his compensation.
When things were good the shareholders did not give a damn. When times were tight, suddenly shareholders started to think that Mr. Black was spending their money.
When the investigation was underway, he was told not not remove any relevant documents from his office. He was caught on video removing file boxes. For this he was charged with obstruction of justice and fraud. He was also charged with fraud for using corporate resources as his own.
Mr. Black was tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. Still, he remained defiant and appealed the convictions. Ultimately, after two years in prison, he was released on bail when his appeal was successful on some of the counts. The charges with respect to misuse of corporate funds were laid using a law that would make any corporate director guilty if they accepted pay. So it was too broad, and therefore not enforceable. However, the obstruction and remaining fraud charge withstood the appeal.
On a closer review, this makes absolutely no sense. Mr. Black went back to prison and he is due to be released later this week. What was the crime for which he ultimately went to jail?
It turns out Mr. Black was under an eviction notice and was required to clear out his office. His secretary testified that she knew of the order to not remove relevant documents, and had packed the file boxes herself. And, most important, it turns out there were no relevant documents in those boxes according to the team conducting the investigation. Still, a jury found that he was guilty of obstruction and fraud for removing the boxes. The contents were mainly personal office items. For this he went to jail.
Sometimes decisions of courts and tribunals just don’t make sense. From our perspective courts in Canada do a pretty good job in rendering logical decisions, even if you disagree with the outcome. But times change.