A waiver for the Prodigal Son

I was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, the only child in an upper middle class family. My father, an accountant, died when I was seven years old. My mother, a good Catholic woman, did her best to teach me right from wrong and to see that I grew up with a strong moral character.

A classical education was an essential step on a French-Canadian boy's journey to success and manhood. After acing my SATs, I skipped grade seven and was enrolled in a seminary at the age of twelve. I was on my way to making my mother proud. I would have my B.A. by twenty and be a lawyer at twenty-four. After a few months of Latin, Greek, Versification and clarinet lessons, I discovered that if I switched over to the English language education system, I could enter university immediately after grade eleven. That meant that I could become a lawyer before my twentieth birthday. I would have to be emancipated before I could practice. Twenty-one was the legal age back then.

Is there no help for the widow's son?

I immediately approached my mother with my new plan and she was less than receptive. The Protestant School Board could not do an adequate job of educating her only son. It was completely out of the question.

Being of a rebellious nature, I came up with a plan: I would get myself expelled by raising so much Cain that the good priests at the seminary would be glad to be rid of me. Piece of cake! Nobody, not even my mother, would stand in my way. I would be relentless and nothing would shake my resolve.

At this time, my mother was working with Father Germain Dandenault, head of the philosophy department. He and my mother had been collaborating for seven years and had almost finished translating the entire works of St.Thomas Aquinas from Latin to French. This alliance and the fact that my uncle, the Canon Sideleau, was dean of the University of Montreal and a close friend of the Bishop meant that no matter what I did, there was always someone there to intercede on Mom's behalf and I would be given one more chance. "Poor Widow Rousseau, she is having trouble with her rambunctious boy. We can't expel him and break the woman's heart." I cut classes, talked back to my teachers and became the class comedian. Somehow, people liked me, and, no matter what outrageous stunt I pulled, they couldn't stay mad at me. They would be scolding me one minute and laughing along with me the next.

During the summer following my second year, a letter arrived and I found my mother in tears. The seminary was strongly suggesting that Mrs. Rousseau find an alternate establishment for the instruction and the education of the incorrigible one, so I was enrolled in grade ten in the French system at another all boys' school.

I began my senior year at age fifteen. Learning was always easy for me so despite the disciplinary problems and a few escapades, academically I was doing well.

The best laid plans of mice and men

On June 4th, 1964, two weeks before final exams, my mother died of cancer. Bitter and resentful, I stole her car from the hospital parking lot and drove away. What had I done to God to deserve such a punishment? Why had I been orphaned like this? I was a very disillusioned and unhappy young man. I was numb with grief and could not concentrate nor apply myself to my studies. I did not take the final exams nor did I graduate from high school.

I moved twenty-two miles south to Coaticook, Quebec. My mother's brother (who was my godfather) was named my legal guardian, and I went to live with him and his family. He was a wonderful man and treated me with the same kindness and respect that he showed his own children. I will always be grateful to all of them for trying to make me feel welcome.

It was 1964, the summer of love in Coaticook. I let my hair grow to emulate the Beatles, swapped my clarinet for a saxophone and joined my first band. I was the lead singer and loved the attention that I was receiving. I could jump off a six-foot stage, land in a split, kiss a girl in the audience and climb back up without missing a beat. I was pleased with myself. Dreams are what youth is made of.

In September I entered my senior year at Coaticook High School. There were six girls and nine boys in grade eleven. The principal submitted one of my essays on Disraeli to the British Commonwealth Society and I was awarded third prize. I attended a banquet presided by the Governor General of Canada who found it amusing that a boy who had been named after a famous French philosopher would write so eloquently about a British Prime Minister.

Now that I had finally realized my ambition of going to an English school, you would think that I would have been quite happy. Not so! Puberty hit me smack in the face and I would be sixteen for the next twenty-three years of my life.

Hitting the road

Gone was the plan to become a lawyer. The school was too small. The town was too small. I had talent and could make a great living as a rock star. Anyway, I told myself, conveniently rationalizing, I would be rich on my twenty-first birthday when I would get my inheritance.

In early spring of 1965, I left home to seek fame and fortune. I was a guitar-singing hippy and travelled all over the US and into Mexico. I shared the stage with the likes of Leonard Cohen, Buffy St-Marie and Ronnie Hawkins. I jammed and sang with Ritchie Havens. People still liked me and on my journey from one commune to the next, there were plenty of nice young ladies eager to take care of me. I was having fun but I was never the headliner. Tripping and hustling were a lot easier than exerting the effort and discipline required to master the music trade.

Be it in Acapulco or Old Orchard Beach, I would find a struggling restaurant and, in exchange for 30% of the business I generated, I would spend the afternoon promoting the big party that was about to take place at my new venue. At Pie de la Cuesta's famous sunset beach, I could easily show up with forty or fifty people. From five to seven o'clock, I would sing, animate, cajole, inspire, insult and convince all present that this was the greatest day of their vacation. I often walked out of there with a couple of hundred dollars, which represented a month's salary to the locals.

The years went by quickly but sometimes the days were long. It was finally time to go home and claim my inheritance.

Rich at last

I had convinced myself that I was rich. I now had everything that my parents had accumulated in their lifetime at my disposal. I won't tell you how much but suffice it to say, that a more mature person could have easily parlayed it into a very comfortable foundation.

It was time to see more of the world. I left for Europe and North Africa. People still liked me but now that I had money I went from hustler to hustled. I stayed in the best hotels and had steak and champagne for breakfast. Robin Leach would have been proud of me.

Upon my return to Canada I bought a motorcycle and truly believed that I was the most magnificent incarnation of a free spirit and that everyone must find me quite dashing. They mostly agreed until the money ran out. By the summer of my twenty-third year and three totalled sport cars later, I was completely broke. Friendless and homeless, once again, I believed God was punishing me.

I told a local printer that I wanted a gift for a friend who owned a construction company and had him print some stationary for his Louisiana-based company. Using this letterhead, I forged a glowing letter of reference and headed for Labrador City, Newfoundland. Being so highly recommended, I had no trouble getting a job driving a one hundred and fifty ton mining truck. On the bus into the mine I asked a stranger if he was mad at me and if he wanted to get me fired. Having never met me, he was understandably confused. When I explained that I didn't even know how to start the truck and that I would soon be dismissed, he agreed to let me climb into his vehicle and gave me a five-minute driving lesson. Down the hill I went and no one was the wiser.

This was my first job. I went on to manage a fleet of taxicabs and even taught French at the local school. One day, having heard that the news director at the local radio station had left, I walked in and told them that I had a B.A. in journalism and twenty minutes later I was head of the news department at C.F.L.W. Wabush. I had also joined a local rock group and felt pretty good about myself.

The winters can be pretty rough way up north. One particularly cold winter day, I scooped all the local reporters and announced over the airways that a respected newsman was sick of the weather and had decided to fly to Mexico without giving notice. Within hours I was on a plane heading back to Acapulco where the elements are much more endurable.


I spent the entire winter partying and singing on the beach. I had a dark tan and my hair was sun bleached. Luckily I looked like a California surfer because I had spent all the money I had earned in northern Canada plus everything I had earned entertaining the masses and could not afford a ticket home, so I hitched a ride with some friends and arrived in Los Angeles with twelve dollars to my name.

I was sitting at a restaurant in West Covina desperately reading the want ads when I overheard the manager talking about hockey. We became instant friends and I joined the Bob's Big Boy manager trainee program. Public transportation was a nightmare in Southern California. I had to walk seven miles to work and, by some strange coincidence, the same distance home. I was sleeping on the couch at a friend's home who was generous enough to allow me a month to get on my feet.

On the tenth day of my training, I was scheduled to work a split shift and had to find something to do between eleven and two o'clock. Not one to waste valuable time, I started hitting every used car dealership on Foothill Blvd. With no established credit, no address, and only ten days of employment I guess you can't blame the car salesmen who were kicking me out faster than you can say "Jack Robinson."

That is, until I arrived at Neal's Used Car Lot. Neal was a laid back type of guy with roots in the east. He patiently listened to my tales of woe and commented that a car would make my commute much easier. For a minute I thought he was making fun of me but then he smiled, and I swear I could feel the warmth generated by this exceptional gentleman. He told me he admired my chutzpah and that he had a rotary engine Mazda that nobody was buying. He said that if I promised to bring him one hundred dollars every Thursday for five weeks, the car was mine and I could drive off with it immediately. Heck, no down payment and no California driver's license--how lucky can you be?

Anything is possible if people like you. I remained friends with Neal and every time a friend or an employee needed a car, I sent them to my good buddy. I don't know how many cars I sold for him but it will never come close to repaying the trust and kindness that he showed me.

I broke every record for advancement at Bob's and within two years I was managing a training-program. I had really applied myself to the company philosophy and using many tricks that I had picked up as an entertainer, I was cranking out managers at a fast clip. My trainees were so motivated and hungry for advancement that instead of avoiding the rushes, they were competing to prove that they could handle the pressure of the hardest positions.

The Marriot Corporation had taken over Big Boy's and they were in the midst of a very aggressive expansion. They were opening as many as two stores a week and I was eager to climb the corporate hierarchy. My supervisor explained that according to the seniority list, there were many people ahead of me. Some of them had seventeen or more years of diligent service to their credit. He told me that I could not expect to bump them after only four years with the company. The prospect of waiting another fourteen years before becoming a supervisor was unfathomable to me. I impulsively gave my notice and started looking for greener pastures.

I hooked up with River John Strathman, a local linguist and breakfast customer. John spoke nine languages and enjoyed our frequent French conversations. He and his brother Scotty (one of the finest trumpet players I have ever met) had a band and they had just lost their singer. I was happy to join them because I really liked John's jazz influenced guitar licks. My first gig was in Griffith Park in front of thousands of people. Life was good.

A brush with the law

I had not been back to Canada for seven years, so I decided that it was time for a short visit to Coaticook to see my relatives. While drinking Metaxa with the Greek owner of a local establishment, he mentioned that his cousin needed to go to the United States to work for his cousin in Chicago. He could not go back to Greece because he would have had to serve in the army and he was a conscientious objector. For some reason having to do with diplomatic relations or visa problems, he could not go to the U.S.A. Yet, there in the land of milk and honey lay his salvation... He was quite desperate.

You will remember that in the early eighties, my fellow Canadian, Ken Taylor, received the Congressional Gold Medal Award for helping evacuate six American diplomats from Iran. Inspired by such a show of heroism and compassion could I not help this fellow human being? After all he was heading for the land of liberty and was going there to work hard and provide a better life for himself and family. Send me your huddled masses.

In the dead of night, our humanitarian hero and his needy companion slipped across the border by way of an old smuggler's trail through the mountains and around a lake. I had arranged for a like-minded accomplice to pick us up a few miles into the States. He faithfully showed up for our rendezvous and we headed for St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where our friend could catch a bus to Chicago. About half way there, in Lyndonville VT, we arrived at a roadblock. The Border Patrol, the Vermont State Police and the local constabulary were all waiting for us, along with representatives of two radio stations and the local television station. We were arrested, handcuffed, Mirandized and taken to Burlington, Vermont.

I become a fugitive

Neither the Judge, nor the Immigration and Naturalization Services prosecutor, nor even the public defender assigned to my case mentioned anything resembling the word "heroism." It was clear that I was in dire straits, and it dawned on me that it might have been wise to think this thing through before embarking on such a perilous journey. They were mentioning the possibility of a maximum sentence of fourteen years. Of course I now know that this was a scare tactic designed to start the plea-bargaining negotiations. To my relief, my bail was set at $5,000. I was forbidden to leave the State and a court date was set for a few months later. I did not have the right to work in Vermont and had nowhere to live. I phoned a childhood friend in Canada who was a lawyer and asked him about extradition. He explained that all I had done was help an illegal immigrant leave Canada and that the Canadian government would probably adopt a good riddance attitude. If I could make it home, I would be free.

According to international law, a country cannot turn back one of its citizens at the border. I availed myself of this privilege and, although technically a fugitive, I was convinced that I had found a safe haven.

For the next three years, I hopped from job to job and even tried my luck out west. I continued to play music but never managed to attract fame. When a good friend called me from Texas and offered me a job as a bartender at the very exclusive Loew's Anatole Hotel in Dallas, I headed for the border. Surprisingly, they let me in without so much as asking for identification.

Dallas 1984

I arrived just in time for the Republican Convention. I, a wanted fugitive, was serving drinks in the main ballroom while Ronald Reagan was charming his troops. The next night George Bush made a speech as the vice-presidential candidate while behind my bar, his son George W. sought refuge from the journalists. I can say that I have served three presidents.

While catering a convention, I met Thomas Monahan and was so inspired by the man that I went to work for him. At Domino's Pizza we opened a unit beside Southern Methodist University. I hustled pizzas. I sold from my car to parked taxi drivers and when stopped at a red light, I would sell to pedestrians and to the people in the car next to me. I went to bars with heating ovens full of pies. I got myself a megaphone and using the techniques that I had perfected as a carnival barker, I unloaded seventy-five of them to the crowd as they left a ZZ Top concert. I was not alone and can't take all of the credit because we were all fired up, but I surely contributed every ounce of initiative and enthusiasm that I had. By the end of the week, we had broken the record for the highest sales total for a new restaurant and I was duly rewarded. I was given a watch and promoted to manager.

Dallas was fine. I had friends there and could go out and jam with the likes of Little Jo Blue, a Delta bluesman who was a regular at Mr C's Seafood Bar & Grill. He once confided in me that he had never seen a white boy who could sing the blues like I did. This was highly pleasing to me and doubtless confirmed my belief that I was destined for stardom.

My new assignment was in Wichita Falls. To me this was the boondocks. I never gave the town a chance. From the "get go" I was unhappy and disappointed that I had not been assigned to a prestigious part of Dallas or Houston. I would have gladly settled for San Antonio. I missed the screaming saxophones and the boogie-woogie piano and the afternoons spent browsing the library at SMU.

After an exceptionally rough shift, I entered my apartment to the sound of a United Negro College commercial. I had an epiphany. Some of you will remember their slogan: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

The night that changed my life

There I sat pushing forty and I still hadn't graduated from high school. I had a mind. Was I wasting it? Was it too late? With no regard for the time, I picked up the phone and called my old lawyer friend, the one who had explained extradition to me. By this time he had been elected as a member of parliament and said he would be glad to help one of his constituents in exile. I asked him if he thought that I could be admitted as a mature student at the University of Sherbrooke because I had decided to resuscitate my childhood dream to become a lawyer. A lesser man would have been annoyed at being torn from the arms of Morpheus. He agreed to counsel an eventual competitor. His advice was courteous but short. He told me that I had two choices. I could either do it, or simply talk about it. In either case, he thanked me for the call then shared his plan to resume his sleep.

I made one more call that night. Marcel was closing up his pizzeria in downtown Sherbrooke when I reached him. He promised me that as long as he had a restaurant, I would have a job available and that I would never have to go hungry.

Early the next morning I called my supervisor and asked him to meet me before eleven o'clock and I told him that unless he planned to run the lunch shift himself, he should bring reinforcements. I handed him the keys and having packed my clothes, my guitar and my VCR, I hit the road and was off to higher education.

The hardest thing was getting by the secretary

"Seize the day" as the old Latin maxim suggests. After a day and a half on the road, I arrived dishevelled and unshaven. The secretary at the faculty probably perceived me as a frightening sight. She explained that they could not take my application for the fall semester. The deadline was March 15th and I had arrived on the 27th of April. She informed me that I would have to wait and apply next spring. She was adamant about rules being rules and that, in an establishment of this size, I should surely understand that exceptions would lead to chaos. I was having none of it. I wasn't about to be deterred. Finally, in order to get rid of me, she said that I might talk to Mr. Tetrault but she added with an air of authority, that I was wasting my time and suggested that it would not be wise to waste his.

I stated my case and reiterated my resolve to Mr. Tetrault. He was the dean of admissions and I was convinced he had power to help me. Now if I could convince him that he had the inclination.... He had understood my situation perfectly as evidenced by his succinct résumé of the facts: "You are a high school dropout, age thirty-nine, and you have suddenly decided that you would like to enter law school," said he. When stripped down to the bare essentials and put so tersely, I began to feel that maybe my case wasn't that compelling. And then he smiled. I had a flashback to Neal's Used Car Lot and another smile that had affected me in much the same manner. He then handed me a slip of paper, which would confirm that I was authorized to file a late application. All I had to do was bring this slip of paper to the Registrar's office and give him $15. People have always liked me. I guess I've always been lucky.

That summer I had to spend a whole day taking a battery of entrance exams. Out of three thousand applicants, they would be admitting three hundred. Not one to be intimidated by these numbers, I felt confident that my experience and my powers of abstraction would allow me to favourably compete against a bunch of twenty-year- olds, fresh out of College. Again somebody must like me because I was accepted and in early September 1987, I walked onto the campus as a bona fide law student.

Puberty was over. I went from sixteen to thirty-nine on this day. I never skipped a class and because I needed money, I worked for my friend Marcel as a cook and as a delivery person. He was true to his word and I never went hungry. I couldn't afford a decent car and went through seven beaters before graduating.

Were I a superstitious man, I would find some mystical explanation based on numerology or some other occult science for I graduated on the 27th of April 1990. Exactly three years to the day after my encounter with Mr Tetrault's charming secretary. I was now forty-two years old and had my L.L.B.

My past comes back to haunt me

I needed to pass the Quebec Bar and submit to a six month period of articling before taking my oath and becoming a full-fledged lawyer. On my first day at the Bar training School, the director called me into his office. They had found out that I was wanted for crimes in the United States and they were not going to allow me to continue.

I drove into Montreal and explained to a seemingly austere and unsympathetic board of review that I had never been convicted of any crime. I had not transgressed the laws of Canada and was not about to be extradited. Unlike the American Judge and his cohorts, they believed that I had misguidedly crossed the border but had done so for humanitarian reasons. Somebody liked me and I was promptly reinstated and allowed to continue my laudable pursuit.

Articling is a sort of hazing period during which your Master is responsible for your continued training. Most lawyers who are willing to take on a newbie will pay him a pittance. Many of my comrades had to put up with a lot of abuse, putting in seventy-hour workweeks and earning about a hundred and fifty dollars. If you haven't guessed yet, I was lucky enough to find someone who liked me. My article Master was Me Jacques Blanchette, a well-liked lawyer and politician. He and I were the same age and he refused to exploit me. He furnished me with an office and the best legal secretary one could ever hope to meet. She had twenty years experience and could have taught many lawyers a trick or two. I would be responsible for my own schedule and would keep all the moneys that I could generate.

I plan another trip south of the border

On my third day of articling, a ship that was allegedly transporting cocaine hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland. Thirteen Hispanic sailors were rescued by the Coast Guard and then arrested for conspiracy. Since the ringleaders were in Quebec and the good ship Marine Transport had been under surveillance, the sailors were transferred to the Sherbrooke municipal jail and would be charged along with eight local co-conspirators. This had been a long and costly investigation and they kept showing the newsreel of these thirteen-shackled men being led to jail by a platoon of guards armed with automatic weapons. The newsman went on to explain that the detainees spoke no English and that they were indigent. None of the local lawyers wanted to represent them and they were not eligible for legal aid because there was no treaty of reciprocity between Canada and the Dominican Republic.

I mentioned to my mentor that I had a working knowledge of Spanish and he authorized me to visit them at the detention centre. I appeared the next morning and entered a plea of not guilty for all thirteen defendants. Foreigners in this situation are never allowed bail. Many a Colombian pilot has been incarcerated and waited two years before going to trial. Through Amnesty International I petitioned the court and convinced a Judge that, as they were destitute, were without passports and could not speak either of our official languages, they could not seriously be considered a flight risk. There was a farmer who was willing to lodge and feed them. He ran the local chapter of the Community of the Arc and had credibility with the courts for work he had done with refugees. This courageous Judge created a precedent and my crew was released on their own recognizance.

The police went to the farm every Wednesday and took role call. On one of these visits they seized the opportunity to question the men individually. It seems that even after fifty diving missions, the authorities had not found anything on the sunken ship. I saw this as a violation of their right to silence and of their right to legal representation. I filed an injunction against the Quebec Provincial Police and was determined to stop them from violating my clients' rights. Before I could present my case, Immigration Canada showed up at the farm and twelve of my clients were happy to be deported back to their wives and families. They had been in Canada for six weeks. I still visit some of them on my yearly pilgrimage to the Dominican Republic.

The Crown Prosecutor had decided that if anyone could be held accountable for the ship and its cargo, it should be the captain. The preliminary hearing lasted close to a year. All the evidentiary motions challenging the admissibility of the wiretap authorizations and search warrants dragged on for months. The defence team consisted of eight lawyers. I was getting quite an education as I listened to two of the top constitutional lawyers debating the finer points of law. Finally we started hearing testimony. We learned that the police had recovered the ship's logbook and that the U.S. Coast guard had boarded her twice and searched it. The U.S. Coast Guard was surely not going to come to Sherbrooke and render testimony. I figured if we were to establish the degree of thoroughness of these searches, we would have to go to the U.S.A.

The prospect of leaving their offices for any extended period of time did not appeal to most of my colleagues. However, I felt that it was in my client's best interest and I asked the Court for a Rogatory Commission that would go to Virginia and then to Florida in order to gather testimony and investigate the circumstances surrounding the boarding and search of the Marine Transport. Since this endeavour was in the interest of Justice, the Judge authorized it and the government agreed to compensate all the lawyers. The lawyers would receive $1,800 each day they were gone.

One of the Crown attorneys reminded the Judge that it was customary that the lawyer who requested the Commission was not to receive a per diem. He argued that the client was the one who should be compensating his own attorney. I now understood why no one was very enthused by the idea when I first approached the subject. They had all agreed that, if I really felt it was necessary, I should be the one to plead it in front of the Judge. I explained that my client couldn't buy me a cup of coffee much less afford to send me to Florida. I did, however, point out that if I could not adequately stock my refrigerator and were my dog to starve in my absence that, notwithstanding the interest of Justice, a young lawyer might be tempted to disregard this useful and necessary tool and therefore deny his client the right to a full and competent defence. The Judge agreed with me and my refrigerator would be full.

A second haunting and a very public humiliation

There were eight of us for the defence: two Crown Prosecutors, two lead investigators, the Honourable Judge Beauchemin and his secretary who acted as court stenographer. As this procession slowly made its way towards the American Customs and Immigration counter, where the official papers would be cleared before we were allowed to board the plane, two imposing storm troopers marched up to me and without any hesitation, handcuffed me and dragged me off to a secluded part of the airport. Someone must have been reading the passenger list and noticed that one of America's most wanted was within reach.

I admitted to being the same Jean-Jacques Rousseau who had been arrested in 1981 and had jumped bail. I explained the reason for my visit to the States and told the supervisor that although my arrest would not cause a diplomatic incident, it would be very costly and inconvenient for our Court and Government. The Judge interceded on my behalf and assured them that my presence was essential. I was paroled into the United States after filling out some files and paying a ninety-dollar filing fee. I jumped on the plane at the last possible second.

We were gone fourteen days. The U.S. Coast Guard gave us their full support and even called back a ship that was at sea in order to allow us to question the boarding crew. During this trip I resolved to pay the piper and finally face the consequences for my lack of judgment. I contacted the Federal Attorney's Office in Vermont, by phone from Miami, and explained that I wanted to plead guilty. I was told that he would not negotiate with a fugitive but were I to turn myself in, he would be pleased to close this outstanding case.

My first waiver

In 1992, I stood before a Judge in Burlington, Vermont. He accepted my plea and after my allocution (which is my verbal recounting of the material facts to which I admitted), he asked me how much money I had on me. I had one thousand dollars, which he decided was the fine befitting my case. No other penalty was imposed. I felt so very relieved.

I live beside the border. From the neighboring mountain, I can see Vermont and New Hampshire. I was once again free to circulate and could save money on gasoline. As was filing up my gas tank that afternoon, an official looking vehicle pulled up beside me. The driver rolled down his window and advised me that I was required to report back to U.S. Customs before returning home. An Immigration agent told me that he had seen my picture hanging on his wall for twelve years and that he was really annoyed knowing that I lived only a few miles down the road but that he couldn't do anything about it. I was no longer a fugitive and retorted that I had paid my fine and that he should kindly forget about me and find another picture to admire. Well, maybe those weren't my exact words, but they do translate my true feelings at the time.

I wasn't a fugitive anymore. I learned that I had graduated to the sublime degree of an aggravated felon. I was inadmissible, persona non grata, and, he was advising me that I was never again to seek admission to his country. He gave me the I-192 waiver application kit and suggested that in a few years, if I was rehabilitated, I should fill out these forms and maybe I would be allowed to enter.

After studying the waiver kit, it was very clear that the burden of proof would be on me. I would have to convince them that I was rehabilitated and that I was not a threat to the peace and good order of the U.S.A. One of the key elements of rehabilitation is the amount of time that has passed since your criminal conviction. Three months probably wouldn't be considered as adequate. Another factor that they would consider was stability in gainful employment. I looked at my résumé and faced reality. I had now been a lawyer for about fourteen months. Even after adding six months of articling, I was still short of the two-year mark.

If I adopted the customary approach it would take a minimum of another four years before I dared to file an application that would meet their criteria. I needed a creative solution. I was going to attack this task from a different angle and they would have to give me satisfaction. I decided that I would not try to excuse my behaviour in any way. I would not plead any mitigating circumstances or invoke any type of argument that could be perceived as exculpatory. I would fess up and take it like a man. A mature person would admit his errors. I had pleaded guilty and received my sentence. It was no longer time to minimize my actions or to try to excuse my behaviour. The person who would be making the decision on whether or not to approve my petition would be convinced that my conduct had been reprehensible. Why argue with him? I would probably be much better off agreeing with him.

So that is exactly the approach I adopted. I stated all the facts that lead to my conviction and after confessing my sins, I showed remorse. I recounted the humiliation that I had suffered at the airport. I invoked the troubles that my lack of moral character had caused me, and how they had almost kept me from passing the bar. I explained how I had finally decided to voluntarily turn myself in without the benefits of a prearranged plea-bargain. I asked them to consider that by surrendering myself to the American authorities I had proven that I was ready and willing to accept the consequences of my actions. Did this not tend to prove a certain degree of maturity and acceptance both compatible with rehabilitation?

I then reminded the adjudicator that three months was a very short period of time and then asked him if he would kindly consider that the crime had actually been committed twelve years ago. If he was willing to consider this, would he also consider how I had spent my time while I was a fugitive? Upon my arrest, I was a high school drop out. Without going into the numbers I stated that within the first ten years I had finished my education. I was now a University graduate, had been legally admitted to the Bar and had been practicing law for almost two years. I don't know how he did the math and, if he got the impression that I was a full-time student for all of those ten years it wasn't because I had mislead him. Wouldn't he agree that the Judge who had fined me a thousand dollars instead of sending me to jail must have seen some hint of rehabilitation? I asked him to concur. I then added the fact that I had just bought my first home.

In my statement of purpose I listed various legitimate reasons for wanting to visit his country, from cultural exchanges with the Franco-American contingent to my love for music and my desire to participate in and to assist various folk-rock festivals. I wanted to be able to consult the Harvard Law Library. My mother's cousins were getting old and were no longer able to travel. I would visit them and afford them the love and support that only family can bring. Numerous other reasons were cited. I concluded by thanking him for considering my case and assured him that I would abide by any conclusion that he reached. I knew that he was a professional and would exercise his discretion with integrity and compassion. I promised him that, should his decision be a favourable one, I would religiously conform myself to all the conditions that he would deem fit to impose.

At the border the same person that had been eager to chase me down fingerprinted me, and after a few remarks about my premature filing accepted my fees and gave me a receipt. I received my waiver nine months later.

In Conclusion

I have not bared my soul for the purpose of amusing you or as a plea for sympathy. I have told you my story to impress upon you the fact that I will not judge you in any way. I have been where you are and can therefore appreciate your situation. Whatever you tell me will remain confidential. I will only share the details of your story with your permission and to whomever you please. Should you decide to file for a waiver or for a Canadian Minister's Permit and try to get across the border, I will do my utmost to help you present your story in a way that maximizes your chances for success.

Getting you across the border,

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Esq.