Morris Wolfe - Essays, New & Selected


The trial continued until July 30, Fabrikant bullying virtually every witness, comparing some with Nazis, laughing and sneering at others, reducing yet others to tears. His treatment of some witnesses was so abusive that Mr. Justice Martin excused them from the stand. Throughout the trial, Fabrikant escalated his attacks on Martin himself, calling him, among other things, “a puppet of Concordia.” Martin cited him for contempt six times.

On July 30, Martin terminated Fabrikant’s defence when he refused to abide by a ruling. “Do not scare me,” he told Martin. “I could not care less.... You are a low little crook.” Ten days later, Martin similarly ended Fabrikant’s summation, which he had turned into a filibuster, reading into the record every interminable memo and letter he’d ever exchanged with Concordia, comparing himself with the boys who’d been raped at Mt. Cashel and with a battered woman who shoots her husband. He was a battered professor. By the end of the trial, most of the jurors were doing everything they could to avoid eye contact with him. They deliberated for seven hours and found him guilty of first-degree murder. Martin sentenced a grinning Fabrikant to life imprisonment with no eligibility for parole for twenty-five years.

Despite all his provocations, Fabrikant got a fair trial. But for nearly five months he played like a blowtorch on the fabric of the justice system — crowding, hectoring, manipulating, jeering — seemingly aware that truly unsocialized behaviour has the rest of us and most of our institutions at a disadvantage .

oncordia University was founded in 1974 as part of the huge expansion of universities then taking place across Canada. It was created by amalgamating Sir George Williams University, originally a YMCA night school for working adults in downtown Montreal, and Loyola, a Jesuit college some five miles away. Not an easy assignment. Although it has many excellent departments and programs — fine arts, computer science, and finance, for example — it is regarded as a second-rank university. For one thing, it hasn’t had the kind of leadership that, say, its next door neighbour, McGill, has had. (At the time of the murders, Concordia’s chief executive officer — its rector — was Patrick Kenniff, a former law professor and Quebec civil servant.) In fairness to Concordia, it doesn’t have McGill’s 170 year history and substantial endowment funds. Indeed, money has been scarce.

But it does have an engineering faculty and engineering faculties are good at bringing in research money. The engineering faculty at Concordia had been particularly entrepreneurial, raising almost half of the university’s research dollars. That gave it considerable clout within Concordia. Presiding over the engineering faculty and computer-science faculty for a period of sixteen years until the spring of 1993 was Dean Srikanta Swamy, an electrical engineer who had done his undergraduate work in India and his graduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan. His faculty consisted of five departments: building studies, computer science, and civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering.

In late 1979, Valery Fabrikant, a small, awkward-looking, thirty-nine year old scientist, arrived at the office of T.S. (Tom) Sankar, the chair of the mechanical engineering department, looking for work. Sankar, a specialist in solid mechanics, had done his BEng at the University of Madras and his doctorate at the University of Waterloo. Fabrikant said he was a dissident who had recently fled the Soviet Union where he’d been an associate professor; he had a Ph.D., was a former student of a distinguished scientist whose work Sankar knew and admired, and he had published a number of scientific papers. Sankar was impressed and offered him a job as a research assistant at a salary of $7,000 a year. He didn’t check Fabrikant’s credentials or references.

It didn’t take long for it to become clear that Fabrikant looked out for himself with a fierce sense of his own importance. When the Soviet Union was slow sending him a few thousand dollars he’d inherited from his father, he wrote External Affairs demanding that Canada suspend grain shipments to the U.S.S.R. until he received his money. It also became clear that Fabrikant had no wish to be a research assistant, helping his supervisor with his work. In fact, he was dismissive of Sankar’s research. Fabrikant had research of his own to get on with, theoretical work related to mechanical elasticity, the study of how materials react to stress. Sankar let him have his way.

Dr. Fabrikant's Solution, continued > 

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