Canadian legal systems 'get it wrong' on serial sex abuse, says former Winnipegger who accused Graham James

For many years, former Winnipeg hockey player Greg Gilhooly planned never to go public with his story of the sexual abuse he says he experienced as a teen at the hands of his hockey mentor.

Greg Gilhooly wrote book about his experience after charges against James dropped in 2012

He suffered in silence and anonymity for decades after meeting notorious hockey coach and sexual predator Graham James. But now Greg Gilhooly has written about his experience. CBC's Marjorie Dowhos sat down with Greg to find out more about his new book. 4:17

For many years, former hockey player Greg Gilhooly planned never to go public with the story of sexual abuse he says he suffered as a teen in Winnipeg.

Gilhooly says after he met coach Graham James — when Gilhooly was 14 and a talented goalie — James convinced him to keep their meetings to talk hockey secret. James told him, Gilhooly says, that the young goalie's own coaches would object to meddling.

Gilhooly says by the time the abuse was happening, he had been groomed to the point he believed the only person in his life he could speak to was James himself.

For years following, after Gilhooly escaped to Princeton University in the U.S., he battled the painful memories privately, and the feeling of worthlessness that came with them.

In the end, Gilhooly came forward with charges, although those charges were eventually stayed as part of a deal to convict James of sexual abuse charges against former NHLers Todd Holt and Theo Fleury when they were in their teens, too — meaning Gilhooly's allegations against James will remain unproven in a court of law.

Earlier this month, Gilhooly published a book about his experience and on Tuesday, the now-lawyer will give a talk at University of Manitoba about criminal law reform.

"It has, in some ways, been therapeutic," he said of writing the book in an interview on CBC Manitoba's Up To Speed

Greg Gilhooly kept his allegations of abuse against Graham James a secret until well after the 2003 death of his father. He has now written a book called I Am Nobody: Confronting the Sexually Abusive Coach Who Stole my Life. (CBC)
"It was never my intention to write a book. It was never my intention to go public with my name and it was never my intention to tell anybody but people close to me. And it was only when Graham refused to admit guilt that this came about."

He called his book I Am Nobody: Confronting the Sexually Abusive Coach Who Stole my Life. He says he chose the first portion of the title because during the abuse and for a long time after, he really believed it was true.

"First off, books like this are usually written by people that have a built-in audience. And I'm really just a nobody, right? I'm not a former hockey star. I'm not a former politician or a businessperson of any note. I'm just a grown-up version of the kid who could've been playing on the street outside," he said.

"More importantly, coming out of the abuse, I truly became nobody at all. I lost all sense of self and ceased to exist."

'Parents, trust your gut'

In 2012, Graham James was sentenced to two years in jail for the abuse of Fleury and Holt. The sentence was raised to five years on appeal. James was released on full parole in September 2016.

Gilhooly says Canada needs to change how it treats people found guilty of serial sexual abuse of children.

"I'm not a 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' type. But in Canada, Graham James walks freely amongst us right now. We incarcerate people who rob banks for longer than we do serial child sexual offenders," Gilhooly said.

"And I think our mistakes come from good intentions. We believe that everyone deserves a second chance. We believe in rehabilitation. I think we over-incarcerate, unfortunately, far too much. In finding this happy medium, we kind of get it wrong at both ends."

Gilhooly has some advice for parents who are worried their kids might be being victimized.

"Parents, do whatever you can to maintain an open line of communication with your children, so that they have someplace to go, they have somebody they trust who they still are in contact with," he said.

"And parents, trust your gut. If you see something wrong, trust your gut. Don't be afraid to stick your nose into a situation that you think seems a little off."