Q&A with Christie Blatchford

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Happening Now Wednesday, April 12, 2017 View Count = 1446

Q&A with Christie Blatchford


Samara is excited to once again catch up with the authors shortlisted for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. The annual literary award is presented by the Writers' Trust of Canada to the best nonfiction book on Canadian political and social issues. The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize winner will be announced at the Politics & the Pen gala in Ottawa on May 10.

Every week, we'll feature a Q&A with one of the featured authors. Make sure you don't miss a week by following our blog

Q&A with Christie Blatchford, author of Life Sentence: Stories from Four Decades of Court Reporting – or, How I Fell Out of Love with the Canadian Justice System (Especially Judges)


Tell us about the genesis of your book. How did you arrive at the subject?

I’m in the criminal courts almost every day of my working life, and have been for years, and therein is the genesis of the book.

I’m not entirely sure of the straw which broke this camel’s back, but suspect I was kept waiting – not me personally, but an entire courtroom – once too often by a tardy judge, or finally wearied of having to suck and blow every lawyer and court official (registrar, clerk) to get a copy of an ordinary document which rightly should be public. I knew there was a larger story here somewhere and thought I was well-positioned to tell it.

How was the writing process? Did you face any challenges while writing your book?

It was as usual agony. I worked on the book for about a year or 18 months before I finally gave up – I couldn’t figure out how to wrestle the thing into submission. The subject was too big, too broad, and I just couldn’t seem to get my arms around it.

So I stopped, I think for about a year, and forbid my friends from even asking about it.

And then, like a miracle, came the trial of Senator Mike Duffy. He was acquitted of criminal charges, of course, but I think it’s safe to say revealed himself as an entitled and piggy fellow at the public trough.
The judge in the case was from Toronto, and was staying at the Lord Elgin in Ottawa, as was I. The Elgin is across the street from the courthouse; I walked it in two minutes. I was on time every day; not so the judge. (At that point, weeks into it, he was on time all of once.) And then it hit me: Here, sitting in judgment of a powerful, unaccountable, unelected senator was none other than a powerful, unaccountable and unelected judge: I finally had one of the themes of the book, and a way to pull it together.

I started back at it then, and limped to the finish line.

Did any books or events influence your approach to the subject?

Except for the things I had to read – arcane volumes about the jury in medieval England, etc., collections of funny court stories that were fictional but no less outrageous than the real-life ones; tons of case law on various subjects, etc., etc. – I read almost nothing on the same subject during the writing period. I’m always terrified I’ll be influenced.
Who would you like to read this book?

I’d like judges to read it, mostly, because while most of them are excellent, they could do with a bit of a jolt. The judiciary is the last cloistered and unassailable institution in our world. Virtually every other institution and arm of government has been forced to become more transparent and more accountable to the people who pay the bills – even the Senate. Not judges.

And of course I’d like lawyers to read it because it’s from their ranks we get judges.

Why is your book important for Canadians and our political culture?

I think that’s for readers to say – whether it’s important or not. But I do think it’s useful to be reminded that the day before a judge was appointed, he or she was just another lawyer, by which I mean, a pretty regular person, with all the usual flaws. They have no special access to magical thinking. If they’re good, it’s because they’re smart and work hard; if they aren’t, it’s because they aren’t and they don’t. We shouldn’t be afraid to say so, and yet traditionally, in this country, we have been, and judges like it that way.

Christie Blatchford was born in Quebec and studied journalism at Ryerson University. She began her career in 1972 at The Globe and Mail and has since worked at the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun, and the National Post. Blatchford won a National Newspaper Award in 1999 for her column writing and a 2008 Governor General’s Literary Award for her book Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army. She lives in Toronto.

Additional information about the author and book, including the jury's citation, can be found here

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