Conrad Black Free From Prison: Former Media Mogul Arrives In Toronto

CP  |  By Posted: 05/04/2012 4:30 am Updated: 05/05/2012 12:23 am

Conrad Black Toronto
Conrad Black and his wife Barbara Amiel kiss shortly after Black arrived in his Toronto home after being released from jail.

UPDATE: Conrad Black has been spotted at his home in Toronto, just hours after being released from a prison in Florida.

Reporters spotted the former media baron being greeted by wife Barbara Amiel and walking through the door of his home.

Black was believed to be in a three-vehicle caravan that rushed out the front gate of the Federal Correctional Institute in Miami on Friday at 8:15 a.m.

He was spotted at his sprawling Bridle Path estate shortly before 2 p.m.

Despite the fact Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 to accept a British peerage, the federal government granted his application for a one-year temporary resident permit.

Black was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice charges in 2007 for his business dealings while at the helm of newspaper giant Hollinger.

MIAMI - Much has changed since the day he went to prison in 2008, but one thing has stayed the same: the name Conrad Black still elicits a strong reaction in Canada.

Today, as the disgraced former media baron permanently reclaims his freedom from a south Florida prison, the country whose citizenship Black famously renounced more than a decade ago in order to accept a British peerage appears divided over his anticipated return.

IN PHOTOS: The Life Of Conrad Black

"In 2001, Canada wasn't good enough for Conrad Black," Calgary resident Paul Hanson wrote in a recent letter to the Globe and Mail.

"In 2012, Conrad Black isn't good enough for Canada."

Thanks to a one-year permit issued by Canada's Citizenship and Immigration department, it is to Canada that Black, 67, is expected to return once he's released from the Federal Correctional Institution south of Miami.

Not everyone wants to roll up the welcome mat on Black Friday, however.

"Should we keep him out because he is a rich, white guy?" a reader on the CBC's website wrote in response to news of the pending reunion.

"He has paid his debt to society. He has the money to pay his own way, he is unlikely to reoffend and he can write a good news article.... Welcome home Conrad."

His home since September has been a nondescript, low-lying, concrete fortress about a half-hour drive from downtown that features outdoor amenities like basketball courts and a baseball diamond.

Inmates dressed head to toe in white could be seen walking Thursday behind the swirls of barbed wire that thread the tall fences.

Only the imposing barriers and Department of Justice signs at the gate, which is at the end of the long suburban boulevard lined with towering palm trees, betray the facility as a correctional institution.

Officials say Black will be taken into custody by U.S. immigration officials as soon as he's released, since he's still subject to a detainer from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department.

U.S. Immigration spokesman Nestor Yglesias said individuals released to the immigration agency are eligible for removal from the U.S. Former inmates are sometimes held at a detention centre before being deported, he added.

And while he's a British citizen, the fact he has permission to return to Canada suggests that's where he'll end up.

Not surprisingly, two days of fierce debate erupted on the floor of the House of Commons when news emerged that Black had been granted a temporary reprieve from the strict conditions that typically keep the majority of convicted felons off Canadian soil.

"Thousands of people are following the rules and waiting their turn to be admitted to Canada,'' complained NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, accusing the governing Conservatives of having a double standard.

Friends of the Tories — even those who are no longer Canadian citizens — get special consideration, he railed, while those without the benefit of such political sympathies are left out in the cold.

"Conrad Black is a British citizen, he is still in a U.S. jail, he was convicted of serious crimes in the United States. Why is he being given special treatment?" Mulcair asked.

"No one else has ever been in that situation, of being still in jail having his dossier marched around all the offices of the minister and getting his approval before even getting out of the slammer."

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney insisted there was no political interference and that the decision to approve Black's February application for a temporary permit was made entirely by "highly trained, independent members of our public service."

Headlines notwithstanding, the man emerging from prison is sure to be a shadow in some form of the one who went in.

The Montreal-born Black, whose empire was once worth hundreds of millions of dollars and included newspapers in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, told an interviewer last year that his first jail term — during which he cleaned latrines and tutored fellow inmates — had made him "humbler."

Brian Stewart, a former CBC journalist and lifelong friend of Black's, insists he's noticed changes in his pal. Stewart said Black now believes that many people — including himself — have been wronged by the U.S. justice system.

"Once he saw the real injustice around him like that, which in his past life he wasn't really in a position to see, he reacted," Stewart said.

"Everyone who knows him that I've talked to — who's known him for a long time — says the transformation has been impressive."

One of Black's biographers, who lunched with the former media tycoon shortly before he returned to jail in September, thought the businessman genuinely seemed like someone who wanted to move on.

"But that will be the question: 'Is there a quieter, stealthier version of Conrad Black?'" said Richard Siklos, the journalist and Black biographer who wrote "Shades of Black" and "Shades of Black: Conrad Black — His Rise and Fall."

"I kind of think so. I think he's probably ready for a new phase."

Black's trademark big personality and character remained very much intact, he added.

"I think that's part of his message to the world — that despite everything's he's been through, he's unchanged," Siklos said.

"And as far as he's concerned, he was in the right all along."

A former head of Hollinger, Black controlled a media empire that included The Daily Telegraph of London, the Chicago Sun-Times and newspapers across Canada and the U.S.

His rise led to an offer of peerage in Britain's House of Lords, which he had to give up his Canadian citizenship to accept.

The immigration hurdles blocking any return to Canada after his release have apparently been cleared this week when was granted a one-year temporary resident permit.

Stewart said he thinks many people will give Black credit for getting through his legal difficulties with "courage and grace," noting that in some ways, the scandal and trial were just as tough on Black and his family as his actual imprisonment.

Indeed, not everyone is a critic.

"He accepted his fate with grace, took the opportunity to learn from it and made a serious contribution to a part of society that desperately needs more intelligent handling," William Lardner wrote to the Globe.

"I welcome him back and wish him well."

Editor's Note: Conrad Black blogs for The Huffington Post

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Filed by Brodie Fenlon  |