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Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Brent Dancey's second chance means the system is working

I don’t know much about Brent Dancey. I know he’s the chief of staff for Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Parks and also responsible for the status of women. And I know he was convicted of participating in a mob assault in 1993 that sent the victim to the hospital and the 18-year-old Dancey to prison.

I also now know that a decade later, he was pardoned for the above.

But what matters to me most is that first thing. That despite whoever he was in his adolescence — a thug, a ruffian or a wayward youth — he then led a life that earned him a career in civil service. It suggests the system can work. It reinforces my faith in the fundamentals of provincial and Canadian correctional services: that they exist to rehabilitate and return offenders to the community better than they were when they went in.

The Wildrose shadow minister for the status of women, MLA Angela Pitt, says hiring a top advisor with a violent past is “out of touch” with Albertan family values. But isn’t giving someone with a troubled past a second start also in line with our family values?

We can dish on the details, impersonating the King of Outrage, Ezra Levant, whose website The Rebel leaked the sealed court records. Levant is leading a petition to fire Dancey. He’s reminding everyone the mob didn’t stop beating the man even after he fell to the ground, and that the victim was bloody in the face. That the assailants ignored witnesses begging them to stop.

But just as easily, we can pick apart what came next for Dancey: a degree in English literature from the University of Saskatchewan, an all-star stint with the Saskatchewan Huskies that helped them win the 1998 Vanier Cup, a legal act of pardon that very few of the three million Canadians with criminal records are granted, a career in public office. In May, he was recruited from the Manitoba NDP to serve our young and unseasoned government.

Why let the former — which happened once, 22 years ago, when he was 18 — eclipse the rest?

As a boy, I was also the victim of a mob assault (no charges were pressed). I thought very little of my attackers until, many years later, I found myself facilitating workshops at the local young offenders centre, teaching many boys and young men who’d come from my northern hometown and who’ve committed crimes harder to stomach than Dancey’s. Later, as a journalist, I’d sit in on meetings where middle-aged and senior men spoke candidly about demeaning unemployment.

To these people, young and old, the single biggest fear is that they won’t be welcomed into the community, let alone with the acceptance that leads someone to hold public office. In other words, they fear that despite what they’re told, the system won’t work.

I believe it does. And if you do, too, then you must agree that a single pardoned crime doesn’t preclude someone from public service.

Omar Mouallem edits The Yards magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @omar_aok.

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