Arson can trump restrictive building rules

Real estate executive was ‘too big to jail’

By Frank Touby –

My friend Slovo the Shoemaker likes to shock me with tales of his life in the “old country” before moving to Toronto. He makes it sound as if he once lived in the most corrupt place on earth.

I tell him that and he snorts: “It’s no different there than here, only here we speak mostly English.”

His last job in the old country, he says, was a position he held with a real estate corporation.

“It was high-level job,” Slovo says as he hammers away on a lady’s sole. “I was in charge of arson. So you can see how fixing shoes is a big comedown.”

I can’t have heard that right. So I press further. “Do you know what arson means in English, Slovo?”

“Sure,” he replies flippantly. “It means burning down the house. With real fire.”

“Wasn’t that a crime in your old country?”

“Of course it was a crime. You think they’re completely uncivilized?”

“So you were a criminal?”

“Of course not. I was a real estate executive, not a criminal. I wore a suit. I wore a tie.”

I’m shocked. “You were a real estate executive who committed crimes.”

“That, yes. To that I’ll admit,” he replies.

“Then you were a criminal!” I insist. “You committed crimes and so what if you wore a suit and tie? You and your bosses were criminals and should have been prosecuted.”

“You are so naïve,” he said. “It’s a wonder your wife doesn’t have to tie your shoelaces for you. Maybe that’s why you always wear loafers. The reason we weren’t prosecuted is because we were too big to jail.”

“That’s insane! How can you be too big to jail? Were your jail cells that small?”

“We were experts at building a wide variety of jail cells in my country,” said Slovo. “Some were like medieval torture chambers and others had hot and cold running girls or boys, gourmet meals and lots to drink, smoke and snort.”

“So how did you avoid jail?”

“Too big to jail, I told you. Like bankers who got bailed out by taxpayers because the world would end if they missed their bonuses, even though they committed crimes. Or oil companies that commit felonies and are fined 10-minutes worth of profits and nobody goes to jail.”

I can see that he’s got a point, but I don’t see how that pertains to his old job in charge of “arson.” So I ask: “Why did a real estate corporation need arsonists?”

He snorts again. “Are you crazy? If there are laws to keep builders from tearing down old buildings, or making them pay to do so, they need an Act of God to lift that burden. That’s where I came in.”

“So you were in charge of burning down historic buildings and making it look like an accident…”

“An Act of God,” he corrected.

“And you think that was an honourable profession?”

“I was an executive…”

“Yeah. Too big to jail, right?”

“That’s correct,” Slovo averred, ripping a heel off a man’s dress shoe.

“Then how did you fall to this low state in life from being a real-estate executive in the old country to a humble shoemaker in Toronto?”

He snorts again, pounding on a heel with his hammer. “It was the damned politicians who ruined it for me.”

“What did they do, make you small enough to jail?”

“Worse. It’s too easy to do arson without being caught. They took away the profit.”


“They made a law that if you own historic buildings you have to make sure they can’t catch fire or fall down. If you don’t, you can’t ever build anything on that property except something that is the same size as the old building and looks like the old building.

“And you have to build the replacement or lose the site and the government builds it instead.”

“ You mean they killed the incentive to be incendiary?”

“They drowned my job,” said Slovo with a sigh.

Then he hammered down a sole he’d just attached to that shoe.