Banks' Notes 07.07.06

Calgary, Alberta IT’S A CRAZY country, Canada. Not surprising, really – a nation whose female governor-general hails from Haiti and had to renounce French citizenship before she could represent the Queen of England in Ottawa is used to oddballs, and the press gives them plenty of play.

“A country with too much geography and too little history” was the way one of its former premiers described it. One of its better-known writers, Peter C Newman, was a little less kind: “The sort of place where people fantasize about being Clark Kent rather than Superman,”

was his lip-curling comment.

So the Canadian public’s lack of warmth towards one of its celebrated sons, Lord Conrad of Crossharbour (sic), as he is styled here, is unsurprising given the press tycoon’s past reluctance to dabble with the rabble.

But all that has changed, according to Lord Black. He recently told the Toronto Globe and Mail that he is now receiving messages of support and comfort from “thousands of ordinary Canadians”, which are sustaining him as he battles a series of fraud charges brought against him by what he terms his “fascistic persecutors” – the United States Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and the Inland Revenue Service.

He is defiant in his rejection of all he has been accused of, presenting a smug-sounding defence reminiscent of the self-pitying self-righteousness of Neil Hamilton and the piety of Jonathan Aitken.

Indeed, the noble lord is a fervent Roman Catholic whose Toronto estate boasts a private, consecrated chapel on the premises, which he visits regularly. To confess? he was asked. “It is,” he replied haughtily, “neither theologically sound nor psychologically healthy to repent what one has not done.”

But what of the fabled big-spending habits of His Lordship and his lady, columnist Barbara Amiel? “There were,” he insisted, “no extravagances comparative to my means. Barbara and I were never profligate.”

Over to you, Canary Wharf veterans. Does that make your eyebrows twitch the way eyebrows have twitched and noses cocked the length and breadth of Canada?

DID YOU KNOW? North America boasts a sports hall of fame, not just for baseball, football and hockey players, but for writers and commentators on the respective sports. A couple of newly inducted veteran sports scribblers blubbed on TV like Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars when they received their ennoblements last week.

Perhaps we’re missing a trick in the UK. What about an honours system for our games desk superstars? A peerage for Parky, perhaps, and the ultimate – arise, Sir ‘Arry ‘Arris!

PSSST! A quick tip for reporters heading for US assignments – allow time in your schedule to be becalmed for hours in immigration queues manned by surly Americans with twitchy trigger fingers.

My experience going through US Customs in Calgary airport had everything: weeping children bewildered by the electronic surveillance demands and constant sweetie bag searches and frustrated waits for anyone with a less-than-lilywhite complexion.

Fleet Street’s foulest will be firing F-words aplenty, I fear.

david.banks@pressgazette.co.uk

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