The mayor of Swift Current, Sask., Jerrod Schafer, has issued a public apology to former junior hockey players who were molested by Swift Current Broncos coach Graham James.

James was convicted of sexually assaulting six players, including former NHLers Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury, while coaching the community-owned Broncos between 1986 and 1994.

"Kids were sent here to play junior hockey, and they should have left with the best memories of their life," Schafer told CBC News. "Unfortunately, some kids did leave here with nightmares." 

Jerrod Schafer

Mayor Jerrod Schafer and Sheldon Kennedy worked together on a certification program to screen people who work with children. (City of Swift Current)

'We just want to let those victims know that we're sorry it happened in their time here.' – Jerrod Schafer, mayor of Swift Current

Schafer penned an editorial, published nationally in the Globe and Mail Monday, to remind all communities that they need to be proactive in protecting children.

He said the apology wasn't a strategic move or a formal acknowledgement of responsibility, but rather a heartfelt way for the city to confront lingering feelings of shame and guilt and begin to create change. 

"We just want to let those victims know that we're sorry it happened in their time here," Schafer said. "And now, going forward, we're going to do all we can to change the discussion of abuse so it's not something 'you don't talk about.'"

Schafer's apology sets up the city's official launch on Friday of its "Safe Places" strategy, which creates a city certification and registration process for anyone working with minors.

The city will also screen Swift Current, a documentary film that chronicles Kennedy's struggles following years of sexual abuse.

Sheldon Kennedy accepts apology

Kennedy, who advised Schafer on the strategy, sees the apology as a symbolic step for the city, rather than an essential part of his healing.

'There's a lot of shame and guilt within Swift Current.' –Sheldon Kennedy, victim of Graham James

"This is about the city of Swift Current, this isn't about Sheldon," Kennedy said. "There is a lot of shame and guilt within Swift Current."

Sheldon Kennedy

Sheldon Kennedy was abused by his former hockey coach Graham James.

"If you look at the city of Swift Current, they've had their heads buried in the sand and tried to pretend this would go away since 1997," he continued. "It's not going away. What they need to do is be out front and address it."

Screening program

As CBC News first reported in June, the city decided to create its own certification system for anyone in the city who works with children, either through an organization or individually, on a volunteer or for-profit basis.

In the spring, the city was reeling from another high-profile incident of a hockey coach molesting children.

Ryan Chamberlin, 39, pleaded guilty to several counts of sexual abuse and was sentenced to five years in prison. Parents had hired him to privately coach their kids, unaware that he'd been previously convicted for sexual abuse and served four months in jail in the '90s.

"We think it will weed out cases like Ryan Chamberlin," Schafer said.

Swift Current's Safe Places strategy essentially applies a screening process similar to Hockey Canada's for anyone who works with children in the city. People will need a criminal record check and a training course to qualify for certification and be registered with the city.

While the screening is not mandatory, Schafer hopes parents will begin to demand it, even from private sports coaches, tutors or music teachers.

Time for change: Kennedy

Kennedy commends Schafer's leadership in creating the city's program.

"People that want to hurt kids seek out the organizations that don't have the proper prevention and background checks in place," he said.

Kennedy dismisses any suggestion that the apology invites him to file a civil suit against the city.

"I don't have bitterness towards the city," Kennedy said.

He said the apology is a positive step toward shedding stigma and secrecy in Swift Current and that he hopes the city will become a national leader in child protection.

Resident Bob Paterson said he doesn't think the mayor needed to apologize, but said he's pleased about the new measures to protect children.

"I think if it's accepted and used properly it will protect an awful lot of kids in minor sports," Paterson said.