Abuser's pardon shocks ex-NHLers
Sheldon Kennedy says ex-coach gets to 'live the life he wants'
Two former NHL players who reported being sexually abused as teens by onetime junior hockey coach Graham James are among those voicing bewilderment and outrage at the revelation that the convicted sex offender was pardoned in 2007.
James, now 58, pleaded guilty to sexual assault after two of his former players, including ex-NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, told authorities about the abuse they suffered from 1984 to 1995.
A new, previously unknown accuser has since stepped forward to expose what he and others consider no less of an injustice: the National Parole Board's decision three years ago to pardon James for his crimes.
"I'm very hard-pressed to believe that there's been change," Kennedy said of his former coach. News of the pardon, he said, stirred an old anger.
"I look at the time from when Graham was charged, convicted and sentenced and now it's written off his record. It was a matter of roughly 12 years and I see people struggling with this — not just Graham James's victims, but victims of child abuse who struggle with this for years and years and years."
Though the pardon was granted three years ago, The Canadian Press only learned of it recently after the previously unknown accuser contacted Winnipeg police.
Kennedy said he doesn't believe for a minute that James has changed his ways. "I think it just opens up the gates for him to live the life that he probably wants to live."
The news has sparked a tsunami of indignation across the country, from hockey parents to the Prime Minister's Office.
A spokesman for Stephen Harper called it a "deeply troubling and gravely disturbing" development that demands an explanation from the parole board.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the government will look for ways to stop "rubber-stamped" pardons, and added he was surprised to learn that James was granted one.
"I think there needs to be a little more direction given to the [National Parole] Board in terms of what they can consider overall, and that these things should not just be rubber-stamped," Toews said Monday.
"We're taking a look at the legislation to see how we can consider amending [it]."
Former NHL star Theoren Fleury, who played with Kennedy on the Calgary Flames, has also lodged a formal complaint about James with police. He went to Winnipeg authorities in January after publishing a shocking tell-all memoir last autumn that detailed years of alleged abuse by James.
"I'm shocked and mystified. Imagine somebody who commits that kind of crime being pardoned," Fleury said in a statement late Sunday.
"I thought we had an open justice system. It's just more proof our society has a lot to learn about protecting the victims."
James was sentenced to 3½ years in prison in 1997. His current whereabouts is unknown.
Word of the pardon also came as a shock to former Calgary MP Art Hanger, a 22-year former member of the Calgary Police Service who's also a member of the Canadian Justice Foundation.
"I can't believe it. I find that reprehensible," Hanger said. "I mean, this man used his authority as a coach and attacked youngsters — vulnerable, vulnerable boys. For the most part, these kinds of characters cannot be cured.
"There is no indication in anything that he has done to place himself into the good graces of the Canadian public. I don't understand the parole board's thinking."
Hanger, known during his time in office for a strong stance on law-and-order issues, said the parole board has some explaining to do.
"There seems to be, especially within the justice circles, those that want to make excuses for characters like this," he said. "I don't think there's room for excuses.
"The bottom line is protecting the public, and if it means having to take these guys out of circulation and if they are in circulation, keep them away from vulnerable people."
Others are demanding answers as well.
Ron Jette of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Network called the pardon "justice undone."
"You have to ask yourself," Jette wondered, "what were they thinking?"
The Canadian Society for the Investigation of Child Abuse, of which Kennedy is a board member, reacted with dismay at the news.
"We think it's sad whenever a person who is alleged to have been abusive in a position of authority doesn't face all of the consequences," executive director Lynn Barry said.
"It is very important that those people be held accountable."
Word of the pardon also sparked a flurry of indignant reaction on the internet, where the pardon quickly became one of the top trending topics on Twitter and prompted Facebook users to vent their disgust.
"I'm pissed off," one Facebook user said. "What is the world coming to?" another asked.