Graham James found in Mexico

Convicted sex offender and former junior hockey coach Graham James, whose 2007 pardon caused outrage and pushed the Canadian government to propose changes to a federal law, is living and working in Mexico.

Ex-hockey coach and sex offender left Canada for Guadalajara

Convicted sex offender and former junior hockey coach Graham James, whose 2007 pardon caused outrage and pushed the Canadian government to propose changes to a federal law, is living and working in Mexico.

Graham James was found living in Guadalajara, Mexico. ((CBC))
CBC News and the Globe and Mail jointly tracked James down last week in Guadalajara, a city of about six million people, where he lives in a gated compound renting an apartment month to month.

When asked for an interview to discuss his 2007 pardon, as well as allegations by former NHL star Theoren Fleury, who wrote in his autobiography that he was sexually abused by James decades ago, the former coach told CBC: "Not a chance."

"I'm impressed that you found me," James, appearing thinner and greyer compared to his coaching days, said when approached by CBC's Bob McKeown on the street in Guadalajara. "Not that I've been hiding."

Mexico doesn't have a registry for sex offenders, and because of the Canadian pardon, there is no official means for Mexican authorities to learn of his criminal history.

That means James can live in Mexico as if he had no criminal past, even though police in Winnipeg are investigating Fleury's allegations.

Successful coach

James was a high-profile hockey coach in Western Canada in the 1980s and 1990s — leading the Swift Current Broncos to the Memorial Cup, the national junior championship, in 1989, when he was named Man of the Year by The Hockey News.

Graham James holds his award in Toronto in this June 1989 photograph after being named The Hockey News man of the year. (Bill Becker/Canadian Press)
Despite his high-profile eye for hockey talent, there was a secret side to James, involving his off-ice relations with his players.

Fleury was a 14-year-old from the small town of Russell, Man., when he was recruited by James to play for his Winnipeg junior team.

In his memoir, Playing with Fire, released last fall, Fleury alleged he was on a road trip and sharing a room with James when he awoke at 2 a.m. to find his coach molesting him, and that years of abuse — including fondling, masturbation and oral sex — followed.

"It's very confusing, you know," Fleury told CBC in October 2009. "You're so afraid that, you know, if I tell somebody, what's going to happen to my hockey career, you know what I mean? I was focused on getting out of Russell.

"Essentially, I think that's the power of this whole thing … the person knows that you're not going to say anything," he said.

Fleury's boyhood friend, Sheldon Kennedy, was another minor hockey star who caught the attention of James. Kennedy played for James's team, and also became a victim.

'Oh we knew it'

Kennedy, who also spoke to CBC in October 2009, said he and Fleury knew what was happening, even if they didn't talk about it.

"Oh we knew it. I knew it," said Kennedy.

"Theoren had to go to Graham's Wednesdays — Mondays and Wednesday, I think, and I had to go Tuesdays and Thursdays. And we'd pass each other in the hallway sometimes," he said.

Fleury and Kennedy eventually both made it to the NHL, playing together on the Calgary Flames in the mid-1990s.

When James turned up in Calgary to start a new junior team, the Hitmen, it was the final straw for Kennedy.

"And I remember seeing Graham outside the locker-room with all these Hitmen kids," Kennedy said.

"I just knew that he was doing it. I knew what was going on, and I think I tried to reach out to adults and nobody was going to do anything," he said.

In 1996, Kennedy and a second unnamed player came forward with the story of the sexual abuse they alleged they suffered when James coached their teams from 1984 to 1995.

James pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexually assaulting the two young men on 350 separate occasions. He was given a 3 1/2-year prison sentence, and was paroled in 2001.

James also received a lifetime coaching ban from the Canadian Hockey Association.

Two years after he was paroled, James was found coaching hockey in Spain. He was subsequently fired.

Fleury allegations

After that, his whereabouts became a mystery. Rumours at one point had him in Montreal, but most reports said his location was unknown.

In the fall of 2009, Fleury — who retired from pro hockey last fall after failing to make the NHL again, and is now clean and sober after years of substance abuse — released his bestselling autobiography. This January, he filed a criminal complaint in Winnipeg, alleging James began sexually assaulting him at age 14.

Since then, another three of James's former players — none of them identified — are reported to have also filed complaints with police.

Police have said they were investigating following Fleury's complaint, but James has not been charged with any other offences.

Pardon granted

In 2007, the National Parole Board granted James a pardon, but the news only came to light last month, after a previously unknown accuser contacted Winnipeg police. 

News of the pardon also apparently led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to make an Easter phone call to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and push for a change to the pardon system. Those proposed changes to tighten the rules were unveiled Tuesday.

Currently, a National Parole Board pardon effectively seals a criminal record except under certain, narrow circumstances, such as if a person convicted of a sexual offence applies to work with children.

Under the proposed legislation, people convicted of minor crimes would have to wait five years before applying for a record suspension and those guilty of more serious offences would have to wait 10 years. As well, it would be up to the criminal to demonstrate a record suspension would contribute to rehabilitation.

About the time that the James pardon details hit the headlines last month, CBC News received a tip — in the form of a phone number in the Guadalajara area of Mexico.

An anonymous source told CBC that James is working for an internet company based out of Montreal. He is now using his middle name, Michael, according to the source.

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Tracked down and asked by McKeown if he would return to Canada if he were charged, James said: "I have a lawyer already in Winnipeg, so it's not like I'm running away."

"I've got a job here," he said. "I've been in Mexico long, long before any of this came out."

Pressed if he had anything else to say on Fleury's allegations or the pardon, James had few words.

"No, I have nothing to say. I have a lawyer now in Winnipeg by the name of Evan Roitenberg. That's all I have to say right now. Sorry for your troubles to come down here," he said.