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UPDATE: 15th anniversary of $1,000 cheque to Conrad Black

In the main meeting room of the national office of the Council of Canadians in Ottawa there is an over-sized cheque dated May 27, 1997 for $1,000 payable to Conrad Black. What’s the story behind this?

Maude Barlow writes in The Fight of My Life, “In the spring of 1995, the Competition Bureau, which administers the Competition Act, gave Conrad Black’s Hollinger Inc. the right to take over the entire Southam newspaper chain (59 of Canada’s 109 daily newspapers) without even a public hearing. …I held a press conference with several other national groups to call on the federal Liberals to place a moratorium on the takeover and hold public hearings on what effect it would have on communities and diversity of views.”

“When the government refused to intervene, we decided to launch a court challenge based on the argument that Canadians’ Charter rights to freedom of expression were violated by this level of media concentration. …But by the time we got the financial commitment to launch the case, a three-month deadline for challenges to the Competition Bureau’s ruling had passed. …The case as to whether we would go to trial was heard in Toronto on December 9, 1996, and we lost. The judge said that even if we hadn’t missed the deadline, there really was no provision for groups like ours in the process.”

“We appealed; we were heard again on April 9, 1997, in Ottawa. I felt the judges didn’t listen to one word of our argument; their minds were made up ahead of time. …So we lost here as well and were order to pay the other side’s costs.

My heart almost stopped beating. Peter Bleyer, our executive director, had been worried about just such a scenario. I took his hand for the four or five minutes the three justices took to determine the amount we owed and apologized for destroying the organization. Our penalty, however, was a slap on the wrist – $1,000.”

“On May 27, 1997, we decided to take our message to Hollinger’s annual meeting at the Stock Exchange on Toronto’s Bay Street. We had a cheque for Mr. Black – from the ‘Bank for Greedy Corporations’ made out to ‘He Who Has So Much But Still Wants More’ – and held a ‘street benefit’ to raise the money.”

This story is told on pages 180-191 of Barlow’s autobiography, The Fight of My Life, which was published in 1998. The court challenge was also documented in the 1998 National Film Board documentary Democracy a la Maude.