I have been persecuted and Barbara was under no obligation to share fully in the life-enhancing and undoubtedly character-building experience of sharing that fate with me completely. But she has, and no one can know, and it is beyond my power adequately to express here, what her constancy has meant to me. For more than four years before I was sent to prison, she toiled with me against the heavy odds generated by the legal and media onslaught. She endured an avalanche of abuse directed at her (although she wasn't accused of anything) as extravagant, flakey, apt to bolt, domineering, and what Kafka called "nameless crimes". For the next 29 months, she led a lonely life in Florida, in a climate that aggravated her medical problems. And once or twice every week, she got up at 3 a.m. to drive over four hours to see me.
Black went on to a small, now defunct, private school in Toronto called Thornton Hall, continuing on to post-secondary education at Carleton University (History, 1965). He attended Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, but his studies ended after he failed his first year exams. He completed a law degree at Université Laval (Law, 1970), and in 1973 completed a Master of Arts degree in History at McGill University.
Black became involved in a number of businesses, mainly publishing newspapers starting when he was still in university. In 1966, Black bought his first newspaper, the Eastern Townships Advertiser in Quebec. Following the foundation as an investment vehicle of the Ravelston Corporation by the Black family in 1969, Black, together with friends David Radler, and Peter G. White, purchased and operated the Sherbrooke Record, the small English language daily in Sherbrooke, Quebec. In 1971, the three formed Sterling Newspapers Limited, a holding company that would acquire several other small Canadian regional daily and weekly newspapers including the Prince Rupert Daily News and the Summerside (Prince Edward Island) Journal-Pioneer.
Born to a wealthy family, Black acquired the family home and 7 acres (2.8 ha) of land in Toronto's exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood after his parents' deaths in 1976. Black and first wife Joanna Hishon maintained homes in Palm Beach, Toronto and London. After he married Barbara Amiel, he acquired a luxury Park Avenue apartment in New York. When the latter was sold in 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice seized net proceeds of $8.5 million, pending resolution of court actions. His London townhouse in Kensington sold in 2005 for about US$25 million. His Palm Beach mansion was listed for sale in 2004 at $36 million. In late April 2011 this Florida property was also sold by Black for approximately $30 million (USD). The Black family estate was sold in March 2016, for a reported price of CAD$16.5 million, but on a sale-lease-back of up to nine years, with an option to buy back, and the Blacks continue to live there. Black has disclosed his intention to remain and perhaps reacquire. He has returned to the UK part-time.
Black's first marriage was in 1978 to Joanna Hishon of Montreal, who worked as a secretary in his and his brother Montegu's brokerage office. The couple had two sons and a daughter. They separated in 1991. Their divorce was finalized in 1992; that same year Black married British-born Journalist Barbara Amiel. Black described Amiel, in the first volume of his autobiography as "beautiful, brilliant, ideologically a robust spirit" and "chic, humorous and preternaturally sexy". Courtroom evidence revealed that the couple exchanged over 11,000 emails. In a February 2011, public Valentine's Day greeting, Black wrote:
Over time, Black focused formerly diverse activities of his companies on newspaper publishing. Argus Corporation, was one of Canada's most important conglomerates, though apart from Standard Broadcasting, it had less than 25% of the stock of the companies in which it was invested, and four fifths of its own stock did not vote. Black had negotiated the acquisition of that stock from Power Corporation chairman Paul G. Desmarais in 1979 to become, as put it a 'real proprietor'. Black supervised the divesting of interests in Manufacturing, Retailing, broadcasting and ultimately oil, gas and mining. Canadian Writer John Ralston Saul argued in 2008, "Lord Black was never a real 'capitalist' because he never created wealth, only dismantled wealth. His career has been largely about stripping corporations. Destroying them." Journalist and Writer George Jonas, the former husband of Black's wife, Barbara Amiel, contends that Hollinger made its "investors... billions [of dollars]".
Some of the Argus assets were already troubled, and others did not fit Black's long-term vision. Black resigned as Chairman of Massey Ferguson company on 23 May 1980, after which Argus donated its shares to the employees pension funds (both salaried and union). Hollinger Mines was then turned into a holding company that initially focused on resource-based businesses.
In 1981 Norcen Energy, one of his companies, acquired a minority position in Ohio-based Hanna Mining Co. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a disclosure was made to the effect that Norcen took "an investment position" in Hanna. The filing did not include a disclosure that Norcen's board planned to seek majority control. Black subsequently was charged by the SEC with filing misleading public statements. These charges were later withdrawn.
In 1984, the Dominion Stores Board of which Montegu Black was the chairman, with the prior consent of the Ontario Pension Commission, withdrew over $56 million from the Dominion workers' pension plan surplus which the management had generated. The company said it considered the surplus the rightful property of the employer (Dominion Stores Ltd.), as the shareholders would have to pay for any shortfall if the assets had been less successfully invested. The Dominion Union complained, a public outcry ensued, and the case went to court. The Supreme Court of Ontario ruled against the company, and ordered the company to return the money to the pension fund, claiming that though the most recent language in the plan suggested the employer had ownership of the surplus, the original intention was to keep the surplus in the plan to increase members' benefits. Eventually, the pension dispute was settled in equal shares between the shareholders and the plan members.
In 1986, Andrew Knight, then Editor of The Economist, advised Black an investment could be made in the ailing Telegraph Group (London, U.K.), and Black was able to gain control of the Group for £30 million. By this investment, Black made his first entry into British press ownership. Five years later, he bought The Jerusalem Post, and by 1990, his companies ran over 400 newspaper titles in North America, the majority of them small community papers. For a time from this date he headed the third-largest newspaper group in the Western World. Control of Australia's leading newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Age, and Australian Financial Review, albeit in a minority stockholding, was acquired in 1992. Initially in association with Sydney Billionaire Kerry Packer and Future Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In 1994 Black and Radler bought Chicago's second newspaper, the Sun-Times.
Black was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1990. In 2011, after Black returned to prison due to the failure of his appeal, Rideau Hall, the seat of the Chancellery of Honours, confirmed that the honour accorded to Black was under review by the order's Advisory Council, which has the power to recommend "the termination of a person's appointment to the Order of Canada if the person has been convicted of a Criminal offence."
Hollinger had bought a 23% stake in the Southam newspaper chain in 1992 from TORSTAR, publisher of the Toronto Star. Black and Radler acquired the Chicago Sun-Times in 1994. Hollinger International shares were listed on New York Stock Exchange in 1996, at which time the company boosted its stake in Southam to a control position. Becoming a public company trading in the U.S. has been called "a fateful move, exposing Black's empire to America's more rigorous regulatory regime and its more aggressive institutional shareholders."
Under Black, Hollinger launched the National Post in Toronto in 1998. This newspaper was sold throughout the country in direct competition with the Globe and Mail. From 1999 to 2000 Hollinger International sold several newspapers in five deals worth a total of CDA $3 billion, a total that included millions of dollars in "non-compete agreements" for Hollinger insiders.
In 2001, British Prime Minister Tony Blair advised Queen Elizabeth II to confer on Black a life peerage with the title of Baron Black of Crossharbour. He would sit as a conservative peer, and his name had been put forward by the then-Conservative leader william Hague. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien advised the Queen not to appoint Black a peer, citing the Nickle Resolution of 1919 and a long history since then of objections to Canadian citizens accepting British peerages. Black at the time held both Canadian and British citizenship. Black pointed out that the Nickle Resolution referred to Canadian resident citizens, not dual citizens living in the U.K and was not binding, but when Prime Minister Blair said the Queen would prefer not to choose between the conflicting recommendations of two prime ministers of countries of which she was the monarch, Black asked that the matter be deferred. He litigated in Canada, claiming that Chrétien had no jurisdiction to create a class of citizen in another country, consisting of one person (as there were other dual citizens in the House of Lords), ineligible to receive an honour in that country for services deemed to have been rendered in that country, because of the personal objections of the Canadian Prime Minister of the day. Later in 2001, after the Ontario Superior Court and Court of Appeal had ruled that they had no jurisdiction in this area, Black renounced his Canadian citizenship, remaining a United Kingdom citizen, which allowed him to accept the peerage without further controversy.
Black was ranked 238th wealthiest in Britain by the Sunday Times Rich List (2003), with an estimated wealth of £136m. Having departed the country, he was dropped from the 2004 list.
Black resigned from the board of Hollinger in 2005, many of Hollinger International's assets ended up being sold at prices significantly lower than those contemplated by incomplete talks while Black was with the company. By the early 2000s, it was clear that Black had accurately anticipated the decline in profitability of print media assets and sought to divest those types of assets held by Hollinger before their value was irrevocably diminished. The Criminal sanctions on Black not overturned were for removing 13 boxes of paper from his office a few days before he had to move offices, and under the gaze of security cameras he has installed, and for receiving US $285,000 as a non-compete payment that was approved by the independent Director and publicly disclosed, but where the company secretary had neglected, in what the trial judge considered to be a clerical oversight, to have signed by the parties.
Black sat as a life peer on the Conservative benches until 2007, when he withdrew from the conservative group of peers following his conviction in the United States. He is currently a non-affiliated peer. In an interview with BBC reporter Jeremy Paxman in 2012, Black stated that he could return to the House of Lords as a voting member. Comparing himself to Nelson Mandela, Black said a Criminal conviction does not prohibit him from sitting, since the House of Lords has no restriction on such a case. He has been on leave of absence from the House of Lords since June 2012.
The Supreme Court of the United States heard an appeal of his case on 8 December 2009 and rendered a decision in June 2010. Black's application for bail was rejected by both the Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court judge who sentenced him.
On 17 December 2010, Black lost an appeal as to fact and law on his remaining convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice. The three judge panel did not explain its reasoning. On 31 May 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear an appeal from the circuit court's decision, also without comment. The re-sentencing on the two remaining counts by the original trial judge occurred on 24 June 2011. Black's lawyers recommended he be sentenced to the 29 months he had already served (aka "time served") while the prosecution argued for Black to complete his original 6½ year sentence. The probation officer's report recommended a sentence of between 33 and 41 months. At the hearing, Judge St. Eve re-sentenced Black to a reduced term of 42 months and a fine of $125,000, returning him to prison on 6 September 2011 to serve the remaining seven months of his sentence, allowing for a reduction for good conduct, for which the trial judge commended him.
Black did not return to the Federal Correctional Institution in Coleman, Florida. On 6 September 2011, he was sent to a different Florida federal correction facility, this one in Miami. He was released from prison on 4 May 2012. Although he became a citizen of the United Kingdom in 2001 and became a British peer, he chose to live in his native Canada after his prison term was completed. He was granted a one-year temporary resident permit to live in Canada in March 2012 when he was still serving his sentence.
In an October 2012 interview, Black intimated that he would rather resign from the order than be removed: "I would not wait for giving these junior officials the evidently almost aphrodisiacal pleasure of throwing me out. I would withdraw," he told CBC's Susan Ormiston. "In fact, I wouldn't be interested in serving."
In July 2013, the Ontario Securities Commission restarted its case against Black and two other former Hollinger executives, John Boultbee and Peter Atkinson. The regulator sought to have them banned from trading in the province's capital markets or sitting on a public board of Directors. The case alleged violations of the Securities Act (Ontario). The case had been postponed pending the exhaustion of Black's appeals of his U.S. fraud convictions. The securities case alleges that Black and his two fellow Directors created a scheme was to use the sale of several Hollinger newspapers in order to "divert certain proceeds from [Hollinger International] to themselves through contrived 'non-competition' payments".
The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, announced Black's removal from the Order of Canada and his expulsion from the Queen's Privy Council for Canada in January 2014. Johnston had been recommended to do so by the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada and the Canadian Prime Minister. As a result, Lord Black may also no longer employ the post-nominal initials OC and PC.
Black applied to have the proceedings dismissed on the grounds that he was already voluntarily refraining from being an officer or Director of an Ontario corporation and undertaken to ask the approval of the OSC if he ever desired to become a Director or officer of an Ontario public company. In February 2015 the OSC placed a permanent ban on Black being a Director or officer of a publicly traded company in Ontario, but declined to restrict his right to trade. Black referred to the case in his column in the National Post on March 8, 2015, stating that the OSC did not come to the subject with clean hands, having "vaporized" hundreds of millions of dollars of shareholder's equity in 2005 when it blocked Black's bid to privatize Hollinger Inc., pushing that company into bankruptcy and a total loss for the shareholders.
In mid-May 2016, it was revealed that the CRA had intervened to prevent the sale and lease-back, with a buy-back option, of Black's home on Park Lane Circle. After discussion, the sale-lease back proceeded and Black provided other assets as security pending the settlement or adjudication of the CRA claim.