Close your eyes. Picture a convicted felon. A criminal.
Imagine a man who did five years cold hard time in jail.
Imagine him joining the queue for dinner every night then returning to his cell to a symphony of metal doors slamming shut.
Imagine the day of his release. Imagine him walking through the prison gate.
Imagine him returning to society. Imagine him turning his life around, returning to education, reflecting on and coming to terms with his past. Imagine him growing as a person and contributing positively to society.
Now imagine him moving in next door to you.
Imagine how you feel when he tells you the truth about the road he's taken. How do you react?
Is a felon still a felon or is he reformed? Who is the man next door? Are you comfortable with him around you and your family? Do you tell your children not to speak to him? Do you invite your neighbour in for a drink? Do you close the blinds?
Open your eyes.
Now stop thinking about Mike Danton.
Imagine another. Imagine someone else. Imagine a man with a shaven head and missing teeth, but without the Canadian accent and the hockey stick in his hand.
How does it change things?
No longer are you considering the man who the most respected coach in British hockey has put his faith in.
Now you are considering a blank face with convict stamped on his forehead.
Do you want him around you? Are you wary of him? Are you buying him a drink? Would you employ him?
This is not a question of Mike Danton. This is not a question of Mike Danton's reform, his character or his person. I've read the articles. I've seen the feature on E:60 about his change of surname and video on Sports Illustrated about his suicide attempt in jail.
This is not about Mike Danton. This is about what he represents: The second chance. How much do you believe in it?
This is not a judgment. This is a question of us. This is a question of our society.
This is a question of the tea drinking, union jack raising, Jubilee-jingo spouting country that we live in.
Danton's incredibly complex background remains as transparent as it stays blurred. His past is documented, but the triangular story that he's part is beyond confusing. There is more evidence than usual for the authorities to examine when they consider the status of his right to enter Britain to live and work.
In interviews he conducts himself with balance and perspective. Danton's reform maybe remarkable. His redemption maybe remarkably true. But what about the people before and after him in the work permit queue who have spent five years inside? Do you wait until a documentary has been filmed and several books have been written on their story before you decide? Will you welcome them into the country? How much do you believe in reform?
An immigrant commits a crime. Why were they let in?
An immigrant with a conviction commits a crime. Why were they let in?
These are the questions that we ask.
Are we willing to accept the standards and criteria set by Sweden and Austria or should we act alone? Is European judgment acceptable now?
The circumstances behind Danton's case are weirdly compelling; simultaneously inconceivable and believable. Is that what sways you toward him?
Does everyone deserve a second chance? Where do you draw the line in the sand for that rhetoric?
At which crime does the right to a second chance end? Before or after, conspiracy to murder? Or does it ever?
Would the members of the St Mary's University hockey team that wrote a letter to their coach explaining the reasons why they thought Danton should be granted a place on the team have done so if his ceiling was only the ECHL? Would Paul Thompson have signed him if he had exactly the same life story, but only had the North American playing career of a standard EIHL import forward?
Again, these are merely questions. Some that are easier to answer in hindsight.
We fell in love with him after the way he responded to Drew Bannister's alleged two-faced talk. We're best mates with him because we're a blue bird in cyberspace away from him. We'll be backslapping him in Crosby's, paying well over the odds for a game-worn jersey at the end of season auction and offering to buy him beer after beer.
But the next man with a conviction on his job application. Do we buy him a beer? Do we approach him with open arms and tell him you believe in him? Do we employ him? Are we so interested in the circumstances of their conviction and their progress in society as free men? What if they're not white? What if they're from Eastern Europe? Or Africa?
Do you look at them with the same unbiased opinion that you're ready to bestow upon Danton? Do you take each case on its own merit? Or do you enforce a blanket rule of thought?
Should the home office grant Danton a work permit?