Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TRUST THE ARTS NOT THE ARTISTS

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We’ve all got friends who screw up from time to time. Sometimes they mess up so bad that the authorities get involved.

More than once, I’ve been asked to write a nice letter to a Judge indicating that the guy he’s about to sentence isn’t as evil as all that and somehow happenstance or a momentary lapse caused them to detour from their normally more appropriate behavior.

And while everybody, no matter their crime, is equally deserving of a second chance, many still need a little time on the shelf to get their heads straight and maybe deter others from taking their path.

In March of this year, Theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky and his partner, Myron Gottlieb, were both found guilty of two counts of fraud and one of forgery for activities which occurred during their ownership of Livent Inc. The loss to their investors is estimated to be $500 Million.

Theirs was not one of those momentary lapses, but an ongoing and complex criminal enterprise that operated for many years.

Superior Court Justice Mary Lou Benotto, in rendering her verdict stated that the two accused “satisfy all three of the ways a prohibited act can be conducted. They were deceitful, they perpetrated a falsehood and reasonable people would consider them dishonest.”

In other countries, white collar crimes of this magnitude can earn the perpetrators Bernie Madoff-like sentences of 150 years; an acknowledgement of the horrendous damage done to those who lose their life savings or entire pensions.

But in Canada, these sentences seldom get within 1/10th of the terms handed out by American courts. And if you are a respected member of the Canadian establishment, you can change 15 years to 15 months.

No matter what you’ve done in Canada, if you’re part of our elites you get preferential treatment.

As an example -- after the Livent verdict, the National Post reported “In an extraordinary move, a court clerk demanded the public leave the courtroom. Court security officers and a police officer arrived to usher the public outside so the convicted former theatre executives could be consoled privately”.

Canada’s “Just Society” is often just for the Rich.

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During the time he was being investigated on charges of fraud and corruption at the NHL Players Association, Alan Eagleson was still a welcome guest in the private arena boxes and homes of many of Canada’s corporate and government elite. He even guest starred on CBC’s “Royal Canadian Air Farce”.

Upon conviction of those charges in a Massachusetts court, former Toronto Maple Leafs star, Carl Brewer, cried out, “God Bless the United States of America! This would have never happened in Canada!”.

Unfortunately, more than a decade later, the old hockey player’s lament is still true.

You can tune in Monday nights at 8:00 pm to see Garth Drabinsky on “Triple Sensation” as CBC continues its practise of propping up the reputations of our Establishment criminals, literally paying people who have plundered the savings of their own audience directly from the public purse.

And you will find many familiar Canadian Establishment names appended to the dozens of letters submitted to Justice Benotto’s court last week pleading leniency for the two convicted fraudsters.

Interestingly, in the way Canadian justice appears to be administered in white collar cases, there were no victim impact statements read into the record or at least none reported by the mainstream press.

Those of import here have a voice. Ordinary people who merely lost small fortunes do not.

Scotiabank CEO, Peter Godsoe, suggested that “Myron has suffered immensely” begging the judge to go easy on his old pal. I wonder how often Mr. Godsoe has made the same plea on behalf of somebody who stuck up one of his tellers for a few thousand bucks (less than 1/10,000 of what his friend took)?

Joseph L. Rotman, he who has the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business named after him, suggested that Drabinsky and Gottlieb should be set free to lecture on business ethics at Canadian university.

As Drabinsky’s lawyer further outlined the plan, "“He would teach students the discipline of the craft, the enormous role that integrity and honesty play in the theatre, the importance of fulfilling contractual responsibilities [and] the avoidance of unethical conduct.”

An odd choice of lecture topics for men who have never admitted any wrongdoing or guilt or remorse for their victims and indeed continue to blame others for perpetrating their fraud.

Perhaps their lectures will be collectively published under the an OJ style “If I did it…” title.

Anna Porter could publish it. She also wrote a letter of support.

To their eternal discredit, so did several well known artists.

Canadian Actress Martha Henry argued that “We need the Garths of the world to give us challenges, hope, excitement, courage…”. I wonder if Ms. Henry had given any thought to the challenges now facing Garth’s victims, the courage and hope they will need to weather the “excitement” her hero has brought to their lives.

Actor Christopher Plummer described the two convicted fraudsters as men “who recognize worth when they see it.” Yes, Chris, and like all thieving Magpies, immediately conspired to make those worthy “sparklies” their own.

And while both these talented thespians will continue working in the theatre, it’s interesting that neither gave any thought to the reality that the Livent fraud means many of their profession will not because Garth and Myron convinced many to never again invest in a play.

Hal Prince, Drabinsky’s favorite director and fellow judge on “Triple Sensation” (Don’t forget -- CBC Monday at 8:00) stated that Drabinsky “clearly loved and respected what he was doing and did it well.”

It’s not clear if Mr. Prince is describing Mr. Drabinsky’s love of theatre or skill at pulling a fast one. And one has to wonder if Mr. Prince feels obligated to support one of the few guys who’s been hiring him lately – a list that’s likely to become much shorter now that its been revealed that all the Broadway “Hits” he directed for Livent were actually massive turkeys.

And then there’s novelist E. L. Doctorow, whose missive of support was tepid at best. “That he has, after years of visionary theatrical entrepreneurship come to this, I cannot view as anything less than a personal tragedy.”

It must be tough for a man of Doctorow’s stature to consider that virtually every penny he was paid for the run of “Ragtime” was money stolen from others.

There are other luminaries on the letters list. Painter Alex Colville. Dancer Karen Kain. Former Toronto mayor David Crombie. All members of Canada’s gentry. All enormously talented. And all willing to overlook the harm done to the audiences they have served for a crook who pandered to their egos with invitations to glittering opening nights and celebrity studded parties.

I’m hoping that Justice Benotto has heard the old adage “Trust the Art, not the Artist” and sees these letters for the self-serving instruments that they are. Votes of support intended to place their writers as champions of these two convicted Establishment darlings, ensuring their own continued acceptance by that Establishment.

Perhaps the best assessment of Mr. Drabinsky comes not from a Canadian, but from Jeremy Gerard, an editor at Bloomberg.com who reported for Variety in the early '90s and was the first to raise doubts about Livent's finances.

"He was a con artist. His con was culture, because that gave him some cachet."

We’re big on cachet here. Keeping up appearances is so important. It just doesn’t do if people discover your great men just don’t have that much character. If it were – what might it say about you?

3 comments:

Racicot said...

Hahaha... So is this proof that a Lizard Race indeed exists?

Cause there sure as hell seems to be a lot of slime about.

JA Goneaux said...

Well, there is an idea for a new reality show: all those fine folks sticking up for the fraudsters are confronted by the victims.

If the victims are swayed by the kind words, the sentence is lessened.

If not, in the age-old tradition of the stage, they get hit with rotten vegetables.

Anonymous said...

CBC will be none too happy with the audience numbers, barely over 200,000 viewers this week. Seems there are not too many Garth fans about.