A whistleblower's fight

“Why did you leave Kelowna?”

A question one former Kelowna couple has been asked hundreds of times and one they were so steadfast on answering, they wrote a book about it.

In a story often compared to that of David and Goliath, Paul Winkler took on his notorious bosses Conrad Black and David Radler in a fight of ethics, integrity and staying true to your moral compass.

The now infamous court proceedings against international media giants Conrad Black and David Radler has its genesis right here in Kelowna.

“This is a tale of being morally courageous, taking a stand and staying true to one's values and principles,” reads the prologue of their book "A Costly Stand – My husband's brave and lonely fight for justice against his powerful bosses at Hollinger."

In 1997, Paul Winkler and Mary Lynn McCauley-Winkler came to Kelowna with their four children for new and exciting opportunities.

Paul had been brought here as publisher of the Capital News and five other regional papers, while Mary Lynn (a reporter) took on freelance work for the organization while raising their family.

The couple and their children quickly fell in love with the city. But that all changed when Paul smelled something fishy when Todd Vogt was announced as owner and publisher of The Daily Courier.

“I was told that (Vogt) was basically a front man, and they were using him to disguise Hollinger's ownership over both newspapers in the community, because the competition bureau would not have allowed a common owner,” says Winkler. “So now I was in a dilemma.”

All of the sudden, Winkler was being asked to treat his competitor like a sister, to work together behind closed doors.

“I refused to do it, and I became a thorn in their side,” says Winkler.

“I just couldn't believe that Canada's largest media company was involved in this cloak and dagger game. Why would they risk it?”

He says promotions promised to him disappeared, and it eventually became intolerable. They were trying to get him out of the way, suggesting he switch markets. He decided he couldn't work for the company any more.

At first, they agreed to pay out the rest of his one-year contract and let him leave. But then Winkler was fired in November 1999 without severance. Less than a year later, after taking the company to court, his wife was fired and their family was forced to move back to Ontario.

In January 2002, his civil suit against Hollinger went to court in Kelowna. Months later, Winkler won his case, but it didn't end there. 

“Over time, we discovered Horizon Operations Ltd., was privately and secretly owned by Conrad Black, David Radler and other key executives. So now we are talking about securities issues ... and it became a much bigger story,” says Winkler.

Despite his best efforts to get local authorities, securities commissions and media to pick up the story, it wasn't until the Chicago Tribune gave Winkler a call in 2003 that the story blew up.

“Three years had passed since I had been fired, I had gone through all the court stuff, and it was like nobody gave a damn, it seemed to me, about what was going on,” says Winkler.

“Then, out of the blue, the phone rings."

The Tribune reporter flew to Ontario the next day to meet with Winkler, and within days, he was on the cover of the Sunday edition.

From there, it was a whirlwind. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, London Times, BBC and Globe and Mail all picked up the story.

For months, Winkler prepared to testify in court in Chicago, but Radler took a plea deal and testified against Black. Winkler's testimony was no longer needed.

“I wanted to go, I was vested at that point, and I wanted people to know what took place,” says Winkler, who adds that is why they decided to write the book.

In 2005, Radler was charged with mail and wire fraud and sentenced to 29 months in prison and fined. In 2007, Black was also sentenced to six and half years in jail for mail fraud and obstruction of justice.

Both served their time, and Radler continues to own The Daily Courier.

“It doesn't sit well with me,” says Winkler. “I still scratch my head. They were never charged in Canada. It took the Americans to bring them to justice.”

The Winklers are in Kelowna promoting their book, one they say was cathartic to write and finally gave them some closure.

It's written from Mary Lynn's point of view, and she says it tells the story of how trying the situation was on their family.

“How our family handled it all, how our marriage got strong and better, because it either tears you apart or brings you together," she says.

“Paul knew this was the only decision he could make.”

The couple lives on the Niagara peninsula now. Mary Lynn teaches French, and Paul runs their own small company while in retirement. Their children are grown.

The authors are holding a reception/signing event at the Ramada Inn Wednesday evening from 5 to 7 p.m.

The book is for sale at Mosaic Books for $19.95.

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