By Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa
School of Law
Zambian Open University
A Critical Review of; Life Sentence: Stories from Four Decades of Court Reporting –Or How I Fell Out of Love with the Canadian justice System (Especially Judges) by Christie Blatchford, (2016)
In the book entitled The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister, Peter C. Newman shows how obsessed Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984 to 1993) was with the media. He woke up every morning not searching for what the Supreme Court of Canada or any Canadian court may have ruled the previous day, but instead he was searching for what the media had written about him. When Richard Nixon temporarily left politics after losing to John Kennedy for the presidency of the United States, his relief was primarily that there would be no more Richard Nixon for the press to kick around. One Chief Justice of Canada, Antonio Lamer once stated that the media can influence a judicial decision. Indeed, when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled against the Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to salute the US flag, in the early party of the Second World War, it was the media outcry that led the SCOTUS to reverse itself in a similar case of the Jehovah’ s before the end of the Second World War.
Thus journalists and the media have profound impact on political and public policy decisions of political leaders and the judiciary. Politicians have gone out to cultivate close relations with famous journalists in order to gain positive media coverage. Journalists and the media can bring down governments. A number of journalists have reached such a rarefied status in the media world that their opinions are sought after or feared. Such journalists include George F. Will of the Washington Post, Linda Greenfield of the New York Times and a few others.
In Canada Peter C. Newman reached the top of such a pack. Christie Blatchford who has written for all major Toronto -based newspapers and the subject of this review has had a significant following and impact in the mainstream conservative establishment.
Like the judges, journalists are there to judge everything on a regular basis. But unlike judges whose decisions are subject to review by higher court judges and the media, journalists engage in free reign without accountability. Journalists like judges are backed by big and powerful machines behind them and they can flex their muscles and destroy people’s lives without consequences.
This review article of the book Life Sentence by Christie Blatchford in which she critiques the judges for being unaccountable, stuffy, self-entitled, self- regarding, uncontrollable, out of control, clubby, unregulated, overpaid, narcissistic, and more, is an attempt to judge this journalist who has decided to judge the judges only after 40 years of reporting from Canadian courtrooms.
Judging the Journalist judging the judges
Funny that the very judicial behaviour that Christie Blatchford now laments in this very important book, was partly sustained by her and Canadian journalists’ sycophantic behaviour towards the judiciary, prosecutors and police over the decades. Blatchford lamely explains in a CBC interview that the scales of sycophancy just fell off just this year and in the book she picks examples of little mole hills that suddenly became mountains that caused her to write this book. There is no explanation as to why it took an adult 40 years to come to a different conclusion while sitting in more criminal courtrooms than perhaps any other Canadian reporter in the last forty years. In any other field, Blatchford would have been arrested and charged for impersonating a court reporter for 40 years and covering up for judicial, prosecutorial and police perpetration of injustices. In fact this book is not about judicial injustices, prosecutorial and police misconduct, the scales relating to these have not yet fallen off of Blatchford’s eyes. What Blatchford laments is purely judicial unaccountability and related strictures. Judges behave like they were anointed by God rather than appointed, some corruptly and not because of their intelligence but connections. But all this has been known since the dawn of time.
Blatchford reminds me of a highly regarded American professor, Erwin Chemerinsky who was the founding Dean of the School of Law of the University of California at Irvine in the 1960s. Chemerinsky had written a lot of books on the Supreme Court of the United States and is regarded as the Dean of the Supreme Court Bar, a select group of go-to-lawyers on anything Supreme. He writes a weekly column of the American Bar Association Journal which I find in my inbox every Friday morning without fail for the last several years. All Chemerinsky does is comment on legal developments in the Supreme Court.
Then in 2014 all of a sudden, Chemerinsky writes a book entitled The Case Against the Supreme Court in which he relates his new discovery that it hadn’t dawned on him all these years that the trajectory of the Supreme Court from its inception has been to side with power, and against African Americans and the powerless. Whoa, what a discovery for somebody who went to law school in the 50s and has written a lot of books on the Supreme Court! How could a dean of the Supreme Court Bar, not have known all along about the conspiracy of arms between government and power with the US Supreme Court? How could Blatchford not have known all these 40 years, and how could Chemerinsky not have known for 50 years about judicial chicanery?
There is no answer in these books about this question. The answer lies elsewhere as we explore in this review.
Blatchford came into journalism in the 1970s when there were not many female reporters and criticizing a white male judicracy ( new word) had no blue-print. There was no precedent. The deans of journalism were outsized men like Alan Fotheringham, Peter C. Newman, George Jonas and a few others whose stature is no longer reproducible in Canadian journalism. Embedded in this maze were few brilliant female journalists like Barbara Amiel. Blatchford had to fight her way to fit in and be accepted in a man’s world. You had to join the club. You don’t rock the boat. No one was rocking the leaking boat of judicial supremacy and unaccountability. Careerism kept Blatchford’s scales fully obstructing her views and she never talks about this in the book.
There is another aspect to Blatchford’s careerism which has been consistent in her career and that is an anti- woman or anti- female stance. To join the club of men and be one of the boys, she wittingly or unwittingly became anti-woman or anti-female. To be accepted in police forces and prosecutorial and judicial fraternity she had to be anti- crime and anti-immigrant and anti- black. Professor Frances Henry has written extensively on Blatchford’s anti-black reporting.
In terms of careerism forcing a certain behaviour, Karl Marx wrote a long time ago that person’s material conditions, conditions their political consciousness. It could even be that their ideological consciousness results from their desired or projected acquisition of material wealth. It amounts to the same thing. Thus Richard Posner’s economic analysis of the law is pretty well not original to him. The market and economic forces dictate behaviour traits and modifications. Blatchford is no exception. Only that she does not delve into self-analysis. Who does?
However, it is not like there were no examples of crusading female journalists. There were including Isabel Bordelaise who crusaded against young Steve Truscott’s wrongful conviction. She wrote a book which temporarily reopened the case in the difficult 1960’s judicial supremacy era. The Quebec crisis of October 1970 and RCMP misconducts of the 1970s decade had exposed through public commissions of inquiry clearly provided raw materials for journalists like Blatchford to have her scales fall off right from the beginning that justice does not necessarily lie with the government and their supporting institutions like the judiciary. She chose to continue wearing the scales.
As for Chemerinsky, there is just no excuse for his scales not falling off sooner. So many books have been written over the years documenting the ideological bankruptcy of the judiciary, particularly the US Supreme Court. As early as one can remember, Bernard Schwartz wrote a book entitled, The Ten Worst Decisions of the US Supreme Court, topping that list was the 1857 case of Dredd Scott in which the US Chief Justice Roger Tunney wrote that African Americans were not citizens of the US and therefore had no rights recognized under the law. Among these worst decisions included the 1896 decision in Plessy versus Ferguson upholding the separate but equal false status of Blacks and Whites in provision of amenities. How can there be separate but equal facilities. Equality would mean not separate. The NAACP was formed to fight for equal rights. Chemerinsky was totally oblivious to all this and the resulting litigation that set out to prove that the US Supreme Court was a reactionary institution in the main. There is no court in this world that had been written so much about as the SCOTUS. Careerism informed Chemerinsky’s scholarship just as much as it informed Blatchford and both never disclose this. Eyes sometimes only see what they are searching for.
Blatchford started working for The Toronto Sun and as you can read from the only published history of that paper in the book entitled The Little Paper That Grew, the paper wanted a piece of the action from the big boys, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, and to get this piece of action this new little paper had to veer towards the extreme right. Blatchford was launched along with it towards the extreme right. The same thing happened when Conrad Black founded the National Post in the late 1990s, it was the paper of the extreme extreme right wing. Black gathered most of the right wing journalists of the era including Blatchford. Right wing ideology does not discuss judicial unaccountability except when it is convenient. Right wingers don’t recognize the existence of prosecutorial, police and judicial foibles and misconducts. Blatchford doesn’t even talk about what ideology animated her reporting of 40 years. Ideology in reporting kept Blatchford’s scales fully planted onto her eyes. Careerism and ideology sealed the deal for Blatchford.
Blatchford’s Book through Psychological and Psycho-analytical lenses.
Blatchford’s behaviour can fit neatly into psychological and psychoanalytical lenses deployed by H. N. Hirsch in his biography of Felix Frankfurter, a US Supreme Court judge in his book, The Enigma of Felix Frankfurter. Like Frankfurter, Blatchford came to journalism as a most brilliant prospect but an outsider nevertheless. Like Frankfurter, Blatchford constantly brings her autobiography into her writings as experiential justifications or entry points to a story. It is like she is saying, who dare you challenge me, I know from experience what I am talking about!
In his review of the Hirsh book, Alan Dershowitz in his book, Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age, lays bare what is at stake in people with Frankfurterian complex, like Blatchford. These people have certain self-images, and we know this because we have been with Christie Blatchford for 40 years and I have been reading her columns for that long and we have encountered each other in court in some of the murder cases that I have done and she has commented on those murder cases. So Blatchford is a person I know very well to the point that I had actually sued her at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for her racist reporting and she has criticized me and other lawyers in murder cases without interviewing me or those other lawyers.
I digress a little to place into proper context how much I know and have dealt with Blatchford at close range over the years. This is to show that my review of her book is not based on long range and detached or abstract academic analysis. It is the subject of very close and personal encounters with this journalist and I have researched and discussed her with many defence and prosecution counsel. She is person-non-grata in the Canadian defence bar though lately she has become chummy with the female defence bar because of the commonality of race and gender. And perhaps ideology. Blatchford is held with pitiful distance in the African-Canadian community because of her documented racist rantings through her newspaper columns as analyzed by Professor Frances Henry.
I first met Blatchford when I did my first murder trial defence of Kuldip Singh Samra in August 1993 to January 1994. During that five-month period, Blatchford was reporting on that double homicide case and never once interviewed me but there she was daily sucking up to Judge Edward Then and prosecutors Uriel Priwes and Warren Thompson. She was quoting the prosecutors daily and she was in fact reporting almost as part of the prosecuting team. She was always strengthening the prosecutors strategy. She has continued up to 2016, right up to the publication of the book under review.
I have followed Blatchford’s brilliant coverage of all major cases including murder cases. She is an excellent free-flowing writer, clearly pro-judges, Pro-prosecutors and pro-police.
One thing became apparent as I read Blatchford’s columns. She is afraid of power, no natter where it comes from. She is respectful of prominent mainstream defence counsel like Eddie Greenspan, Clayton Ruby, Alan Gold, John Rosen and so on. Blatchford becomes objective when she reports cases defended by these mainstream lawyers because she knows they would take her and her newspaper to the cleaners. But to the non-mainstream defence counsel like this author and their clients, Blatchford has historically been vicious without restraint.
I next encountered Blatchford at a tail end of a murder case I did in 2005 to 2007 involving a police officer who had killed his mistress. Sure enough I found Blatchford sitting comfortably with prosecutors Howard Dale and Jeff Pearson, sucking up. After l left that case, a very controversial case, Blatchford interviewed me by email but she never ever used that interview because it did not contain the sensational material she preferred to nail defence counsel. Later on when she wrote on that case, she never reinterviewed me but was vicious in her judgment against me in tandem with professional prosecutorial and police agencies.
In 2008 to 2010 when I did another major murder case involving double homicide for HIV-transmission, Blatchford never deviated from her sucking up to prosecutor Karen Shea and John Pearson. She never interviewed me but attacked me ferociously in the Globe and Mail as “bellowing at a witness” when the witness cried in cross-examination. She continued to attack me and my co-counsel Davies Bagambiire and she had a particular neurotic hatred of our client.
But sucking up to the presiding judge Lofchik, she as always, was perfect.
Thus to read that after 40 years of reporting she has fallen out of love with the Canadian justice system, especially the judges, was too much to take. Thus this longer review of her book and my personal encounter with Blatchford interwoven in this review. A lot of lawyers can perhaps report same encounters and experiences.
I know Christie has a negative self-image of herself just like Frankfurter had.
According to Dershowitz commenting on the Hirsch book, “when a self-image is created and employed for ‘purposes of compensation’, the individual will feel a constant need to prove himself, to overreact to criticism, to direct self-hatred outward and to conceal self-doubts”. Blatchford in addition to her other self doubts which are so obvious and have been commented on by many others including herself, have had doubts whether she would cut it in a then man’s world of journalism.
“Self conscious about his short stature and immigrant background, Frankfurter decided to parlay his intellectual brilliance into , ‘a certain degree of social acceptance from Brahmin, Yankee culture’ “Dershowitz quotes Hirsch. We all know what ails Blatchford. This can according to Hirsch lead to the development of neuroses and private insecurities that now could be projected writ-large onto judicial or journalistic behaviour.
Frankfurter according to Hirsch as quoted by Dershowitz “can best be understood, ‘psychologically as representing a textbook case of a neurotic personality'”. Blatchford fits into this mold. As do Henry Kissinger and SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas. Such people afflicted by neuroses and private insecurities lead them “to harden their stands, to behave in a certain way towards their colleagues, to emphasize certain strands in their philosophy and to exclude others when they were adopted by their enemies, to ignore and rationalize certain contradictions in their theory”.
When you examine Frankfurter, it is like you are examining Christie Blatchford. Frankfurter once unleashed on the scene became, like Blatchford, “a hopeless sycophant, constantly fawning on and flattering those in power (or positions of influence), even when privately critical of their actions”, reviews Dershowitz.
Thus in 40 years Blatchford from the record, never met a judge, prosecutor or police that she did not like and suck up to. I have observed this with my own eyes. The scales have fallen with respect to judges, grudgingly. Maybe Blatchford is on another mission and platform to conquer. She no longer has use for the judiciary. She had climbed. She is now too big to fail or fall. Will the scales ever fall with respect to prosecutors and police who perpetrate wrongful convictions or racial profiling?
Blatchford long reached her exalted status and maybe this important book on the Judges is a signal that she no longer has to keep proving herself while concealing her self-doubts, paraphrasing Dershowitz review of the Hirsch book concerning Frankfurter.
I recommend Life Sentence unreservedly, it is the only one of its Kind in Canada and it has come 40 years too late but it is a wake-up call to the Canadian judicial establishment from within their club, so therefore it is likely to get attention while our snippings from the fringe on the same subject of judicial obduracy has been ignored for 40 years.
However, the Life Sentence of 40 years is self-inflicted and no sympathy can be exacted from the readers. And this sentence will continue until Blatchford removes her blinkers about prosecutorial and police misconduct that are the causes of untold injustices in the criminal and other justice systems. In my book, The Politics of Judicial Diversity and Transformstion(2012), I provide the tools by which Blatchford may be liberated. Unlike Kirk Makin formerly of the Globe and Mail whom I first gave the book to, to review shortly after it was published but who cleverly and in an unconscionable sophisticated way according to the Dean of a Canadian law school, stole my intellectual property from the book and ran with it without attribution of the sources of his new twist of ideas, garnering much accolades on judicial diversity throughout 2012 in Canada, Blatchford will be doing it with my permission.
This review is to also show that there is much written in Canada on Blatchford’s subject matter which needn’t have taken her 40 years to discover.
Munyonzwe Hamalengwa is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at Zambian Open University in Lusaka, Zambia. He had practised law in Toronto, Canada for 25 years in which he did major first degree murder cases and engaged in high profile class action law suits against racial discrimination and racial profiling. His forthcoming book is entitled, The Book on Judges.