Peter Munk interview at Indigo goes awry due to rowdy audience member

Peter Munk interview at Indigo goes awry due to rowdy audience member

Balzac’s neatly turned observation that “behind every great fortune there is a crime” has developed into a veritable shibboleth of the activist left. One thing is sure: if you make or inherit a great fortune, it’s a lock you’ll be accused of a great crime. Gates is a monopolist, Murdoch a closet fascist, Thomson a virtual polygamist, and don’t even get me started on all those Russians. Tuesday night in Toronto I saw this phenomenon in action. Peter Munk, whose Barrick Gold Corporation has developed into one of the great Canadian money-spinners of recent times, was interviewed on the stage at Indigo Books. His interlocutor was his daughter, Vanity Fair contributor Nina Munk. The subject of the chat was supposed to be a new book by Munk the Younger and Rachel Gotlieb that is titled The Art of Clairtone and celebrates the design innovations of Peter Munk’s long-defunct stereo company. The evening went more or less as planned, with Nina asking Peter straightforward journalistic questions concerning the content of her book. And then, in a moment, things went haywire.

At the opening of the Q&A, a nondescript gent stood up and, in a wan tone, began to ask a question that seemed to turn on what he claimed was Barrick’s spotty environmental record. Nina Munk was alert to the dangerous direction she was being drawn, so she interrupted the man, saying that the questions on the evening were meant to turn on Clairtone. Did he have a question in that regard?

He didn’t. In fact, this is where things really went off the rails. The fellow simply carried on like a low-key high school English teacher addressing morning assembly. As he gathered pace, the tenor of his accusations grew more and more inflammatory: “Murder…slaughter…rape…Peter Munk has blood on his hands.” Parts of the audience quickly turned hostile, especially when the man began handing out a yellow flyer that repeated the same accusations in print: “Shut up…sit down…I’m tired of hearing that shit, etc., etc.” From the stage, Nina Munk plaintively asked him to sit down “sir” and even asked—several times—“Can we discuss this afterwards?” The elder Munk’s expression remained fixed in an unhappy mask.

Eventually, a couple of burly Indigo staffers appeared and hustled the man out without further incident. The event clattered to a conclusion. Afterwards, Peter Munk huddled briefly with the Indigo staffers, asking to see the flyer and quietly remonstrating them. “The man called me a murderer, for God’s sake.” I later discovered that a photographer at the event was shooting the protest for the Web site, which is associated with an anti-Barrick cause—the same one referred to on the yellow flyer.

If nothing else, the whole scene was distinctly Canadian: an understated protest and a polite, if dismissive, response. But from the looks of this flyer and its associated Web site, Munk and Barrick are in for choppy water.