Is Arthur Porter really dead?

Quebec judicial authorities are skeptical about the reported death of the former Montreal superhospital boss in Panama on July 1. With good reason.

Arthur Porter
Arthur Porter, ground breaker
It’s fitting that the first reaction from Quebec judicial authorities to the reported death of former Montreal superhospital boss Arthur Porter was:

Prove it.

Porter had been (was, is, I’m not sure what tense to use here) charged with taking $11.25-million in an alleged $22.5-million kickback scheme to grant the $1.3-billion hospital building contract to a consortium led by SNC-Lavalin. He fled the country before the charges were laid and hid in plain sight in the Bahamas, which conveniently has no extradition treaty with Canada. Self-reportedly too ill to travel to Canada to face the charges, Porter was well enough to fly to Panama en route to St. Kitts and Nevis — or Antigua, depending on whom you believe —  in May 2013. Anyway, the good doctor thought he’d be safe from arrest thanks to a Crackerjack diplomatic passport from his native Sierra Leone. (A true citizen of the world, Porter has citizenship in at least four countries.) Panamanian authorities were convinced at first, but after consulting Interpol, arrested Porter and his wife Pamela. Pamela Porter returned to Canada to face money-laundering charges (to which she pleaded guilty) but Arthur Porter stayed in Panama’s notorious La Joya Prison while fighting extradition. The oncologist complained vehemently about horrible conditions there and poor access to medical care for his recently self-diagnosed lung cancer, but wasn’t upset enough to agree to extradition to a Canadian jail while awaiting trial, even though he insisted he was innocent and would be cleared of all accusations.

Anyway, there’s lots more to the story and if you’re not willing to wait for the movie, just Google Brian Hutchinson’s fascinating investigative reports for the National Post. In his latest piece, Hutchinson notes that Porter never made it to trial, so our Western judicial mores (“innocent until proven guilty”) mean he has permanently escaped the justice that has already claimed many of his alleged co-conspirators.

However, Hutchinson adds, “Of this I am sure: Porter was a liar.”

So much of a liar that Quebec’s Directorate of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions told La Presse that they won’t trust statements from Porter’s biographer or even the spokesperson for the Panamanian hospital that treated him for the past eight weeks that the doc is dead. Without incontrovertible proof, the RCMP may even send agents to Panama to verify that there’s a body, and that it’s Porter’s.

Since authorities have yet to find most of the money Porter is alleged to have socked away, the theory that he could have bribed his way into a fake grave doesn’t seem that far-fetched. After all, even the facts we know about sound like the product of a third-tier Hollywood screenwriter.

“He lied to me many times. Bald-faced, provable, stupid lies,” Hutchinson wrote in a story published on Canada Day, the day after Porter is supposed to have died. “Caught out, he admitted some of them to me. On others, he claimed confusion or a faulty memory. There were conflicting accounts, ludicrous explanations.”


You can’t help but feel a sense of regret that Porter (if he really is dead), will never be held to account for the numerous transgressions (fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust, taking secret commissions, money laundering) with which he was charged. The former head of the McGill University Hospital Centre — and Stephen Harper’s appointment as chairman of the Canadian government’s highly sensitive Security Intelligence Review Committee — led a life that is shrouded in mystery (even from his wife, by her account).

Yet if what we DO know is any indication, it’s highly unlikely that Porter was capable of doing anything but muddying the waters surrounding his controversial tenure at the MUHC and on the SIRC. He hinted at tantalizing inside stories about Harper and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, secretive international missions for foreign governments and major corporations like SNC, etc. And if Porter could ever find the ability to tell those stories without the lies and embellishments that mark so many of the tales he has told journalists like Hutchinson, it would no doubt make for a fascinating read. But like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, could we ever truly believe anything he had to say?

Forced to choose between the word of Porter vs. Harper or Couillard, even professional politicians might deserve the benefit of the doubt.

So the truth about the many trials and tribulations of the Honourable Arthur T. Porter IV will remain buried with the man who managed to bamboozle the political elites of both Ottawa and Quebec for close to eight years.

The only truth that we can be sure of is that Porter is a poster boy for the marriage of wealth, power, lies and corruption that continues to make a mockery of Western democracy. Porter may well turn out to be truly dead, but the disease that he carried will unfortunately continue to course through the veins of our body politic. ■
Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.