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Canada is a country of second chances, and there is nothing wrong with that. Conrad Black has asked for a second chance at a life here, and the Canadian government was right to give him that chance.

Many Canadians hold strong views, con and pro, about Lord Black, but the decision on his return should not be about partisanship, political or otherwise. It is about larger values of Canada that are applied whether an individual is universally loved or reviled, or some mix of the two.

In the eyes of some Canadians, his criminal wrongdoing should make him ineligible to return, at least for a period of time. In the eyes of others, his decision to renounce his citizenship was such a slap at Canada that he should be made to accept, forever, the harshest possible consequences of that action.

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This is not a country that makes people pay forever for their mistakes or wrongs, especially when they can be reasonably expected to move beyond those mistakes and wrongs and contribute to their community. (Lord Black may not accept that he did wrong, but the U.S. Supreme Court did, and that is enough to establish the basic facts for Canada.) He has paid a tough penalty for his criminal behaviour. He has been serving a term of 42 months in a U.S. prison. It is unlikely that he will reoffend.

He has also paid for renouncing his citizenship. If he had been a Canadian, he would have been eligible to serve his time in Canada, under this country's far more lenient parole laws. He would have been released long ago.

Lord Black's circumstances in applying for a temporary resident permit (which gives him the opportunity to apply to become a citizen again) are unique. He was born in Montreal and spent most of his life here as a successful businessman, author and philanthropist, and an always stimulating presence, whether one agreed or disagreed with him. He became a dual citizen of Canada and Britain, and when British prime minister Tony Blair offered him a spot in the House of Lords in 1999, and prime minister Jean Chrétien unreasonably said a Canadian could not accept, he renounced his citizenship. That decision should not be held against him.

In these unique circumstances, his case should not be viewed in legalistic or technical terms. It obliges Canada to look inward and ask itself what it stands for. In the end, giving Lord Black a second chance reinforces the value of second chances for all.

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