TORONTO – Disgraced theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky has been stripped of his Order of Canada appointment and is going to court to fight the decision he says is unfair, considering his imprisonment.
Drabinsky was released to a Toronto halfway house earlier this month after serving part of his five-year sentence for fraud.
He and business partner Myron Gottlieb were convicted in 2009 for a book-cooking scheme that ultimately resulted in the demise of now-defunct Livent Inc. — the company behind such hits as “Phantom of the Opera” and “Ragtime.”
The Order of Canada advisory council sent Drabinsky’s lawyers a letter in June saying they were considering removing him from the order and gave him a month to send in submissions.
As Drabinsky was still incarcerated in Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ont., he couldn’t access necessary documents and needed more time to put together his argument to stay in the order, his lawyers told the council.
They gave him one more month.
Drabinsky was still in prison, still without his documents, without Internet access and still only able to call people on a pre-approved list, but he nevertheless sent the council an impassioned, 17-page plea.
“It cannot be disputed that the economic impact to Canada of my entrepreneurial and creative activities was in the billions of dollars and the cultural impact was unparalleled in the history of this country,” he wrote.
A criminal conviction does not mean automatic removal from the order.
It is not an award for good behaviour, Drabinsky said, noting that disgraced Olympian Ben Johnson is still a member of the Order of Canada.
Drabinsky heard nothing from the advisory council until his lawyers received a letter earlier this month saying that back in November the governor general accepted a recommendation from the council to terminate Drabinsky’s appointment.
He’s now asking the Federal Court to declare the decision unlawful and order the council to consider more submissions from Drabinsky, now that he is out of prison and able to prepare them.
“The advisory council does not have all of the facts and they do not have all of the facts because they denied me the opportunity to present them to them,” Drabinsky said in an affidavit.
“I also believe that the governor general would not have signed the ordinance if he had been informed that the evidence was incomplete.”
Rideau Hall said in a statement that the council followed all appropriate steps in considering Drabinsky’s removal.
“We maintain that the process followed in Mr. Drabinsky’s case was procedurally fair throughout,” said Marie-Pierre Belanger, a spokeswoman for the secretary to the governor general.
Drabinsky was invested as an officer of the Order of Canada in 1995 for his “invaluable contribution to the growth of theatrical production in this country.”
“An entrepreneur and a risk-taker, he revolutionized film presentation and distribution in Canada,” reads the blurb on the awards’ website, which has apparently not been updated.
“His operation of an historic Toronto theatre and another in North York has raised the standards of commercial theatre and provided new opportunities for Canadian talent in an industry which, through his influence, has become a respected player in the international marketplace.”
The judge in Drabinsky and Gottlieb’s fraud trial ruled that the partners orchestrated a scheme involving the falsification of Livent’s financial statements to lower its expenses and make the company look like it was meeting high earnings projections.
The accounting fraud didn’t involve “a single dollar of personal gain” for Drabinsky, he notes, but the “fortune” he amassed from Livent’s successes has been depleted by legal expenses.
Drabinsky’s transgressions don’t detract from his contributions to the arts in Canada, he said in his plea to the advisory council.
“For over forty years I have never quit on Canada,” he wrote.
“Act I of my business career was primarily focused on the motion picture production and cinema phase of my life. Act II was primarily devoted to live theatre. Act III hopefully will commence this fall. There has never been an intermission.”
Drabinsky wrote that he has developed a concept for an “international museum of culture” to be built “on a Disney-like scale” and is working with a real estate developer.
It could have “a profound impact on this country and the world for generations,” he wrote.
“If constructed in Ontario, it can result in finally thwarting the drain of tourism that has plagued the province’s economy for over a decade.”