Graham James appeal urged by federal politicians

Federal politicians are urging Manitoba to appeal the two-year sentence given to former junior hockey coach Graham James for sexually assaulting two players.
Disgraced former junior hockey coach Graham James was sentenced earlier this week in Winnipeg. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Federal politicians are urging the Manitoba government to appeal the two-year sentence given to former junior hockey coach Graham James for sexually assaulting two players.

James was sentenced Tuesday in Winnipeg in the sexual assaults of ex-NHL player Theoren Fleury and Fleury's younger cousin, Todd Holt, while he was their junior coach during the 1980s and early '90s.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says Manitoba needs to examine the case carefully, noting the Harper government — which was in power when James was pardoned in 2007 for his previous sexual assaults  — has worked hard to toughen punishment for sex offenders.

The Crown was seeking a six-year prison term, but provincial court Judge Catherine Carlson sentenced James to two years for each offence. The sentences will be served concurrently.

Could be out before Christmas

James could be out of prison before Christmas, eligible for parole after serving one-third of the sentence.

Shelly Glover, Conservative MP for the St. Boniface riding in Winnipeg, said in a news release she "is extremely disappointed that Graham James has been sentenced to only two years in a federal prison for his disgusting crimes against children.

"This unfathomable sentence is a perfect example of what brought me to federal politics. We need tougher laws to protect victims and ensure sentences reflect the severity of the crime," she said.

"My thoughts are with the victims and their families, but also with the law enforcement officers who work so hard on these cases only to see this kind of injustice in the end."

The sentence has also sparked outrage across Canada, with people and agencies insisting it's too lenient.

The Toronto-based Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness says it's shocked and disappointed at the sentence.

Manitoba justice officials said on Wednesday they will review the sentence to determine if there are grounds for an appeal.

The Crown has 30 days to appeal the sentence.

Fleury wants 20-year sentence

Fleury, who was in Winnipeg for a hockey event on Thursday, said he believes James should spend 20 years behind bars.

"This isn't about me anymore, this isn't about Todd Holt, this isn't about Greg Gilhooly," Fleury said.

"This is about the system and exposing it, and we've done that."

Fleury said he hopes a possible appeal of James's sentence will get the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

There are about eight million sexual abuse survivors across Canada, and they all have a voice, he added.

"If he's going to ask for votes in the next election, we've got eight million of them," he said.

"So he better make sure that one of the promises that he makes and follows through with is that the laws get changed."