Former NHLer Fleury wants Graham James to serve jail time

Retired NHL star Theoren Fleury says it's common sense that his junior hockey coach should get jail time for sexually abusing him when he was a teenage player.
Former NHL player Theoren Fleury says he's already moved on - no matter what happens to Graham James in court. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

Retired NHL star Theoren Fleury says it's common sense that his junior hockey coach should get jail time for sexually abusing him when he was a teenage player.

But Fleury also says he's already moved on — no matter what happens to Graham James in court.

James is to appear at a sentencing hearing in Winnipeg on Wednesday. He pleaded guilty via video link in December to repeated sexual assaults against two former junior players: one of them Fleury and another who cannot be named because of a court-ordered publication ban.

The Crown and defence will make their sentence recommendations. The hearing will also allow the victims to be heard.

Fleury won't attend as he'll be in Vancouver preparing to host the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards later in the week. He's prepared a victim impact statement, however, although he says he doesn't have any expectations about what the judge's eventual sentencing decision will be.

"I have already moved past and I am the victor over sexual abuse," Fleury said from Calgary in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"And my sole focus and sole purpose in my life — and for the remainder of my life — is to support other victims who have come forth, or are yet to come forth, and have started the journey and the path to healing."

Latest convictions against James

The latest convictions against James date from a period between 1983 and 1994. He has already served a 3 ½-year sentence for abusing three other former players about the same time, including former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy.

Kennedy says he will be at the sentencing hearing. Also planning to attend is Greg Gilhooly, even though charges relating to him were stayed when James pleaded guilty in December.

In an email, which also appears on Gilhooly's Facebook page, the former goalie said the hearing in Winnipeg will be the first time he's seen James in 30 years.

"I have a ticket in hand and plan on being there, though I will admit that some days I go back and forth on this," said the email from Gilhooly, now a corporate lawyer in Ontario.

"I am under no illusions, given that Graham did not plead guilty to the charges relating to me, and the fact that this is a sentencing hearing, I anticipate this will, in fact, be a very ugly day."

James has been free on bail while awaiting his sentence.

Gilhooly, a Princeton University graduate with a law degree from the University of Toronto, asked the court to remove the publication ban on his name after the stay of charges in his case. He'd originally gone to police in the spring of 2010 after discovering James had been quietly pardoned in 2007 for his earlier convictions.

Political firestorm

He forwarded the revelation to The Canadian Press and the resulting political firestorm led to changes in Canada's pardon system.

Gilhooly said it's important for him to attend the sentencing because he doesn't want James or his lawyer to refer to him "in concept" only. He says he doesn't know what to expect of James — or of himself.

"What I do know is this: we are deluding ourselves if we believe justice will be served by the courts."

Kennedy, meanwhile, said he wants to be at the hearing to support Gilhooly.

"It's a hard day to face your abuser in whatever type of abuse that is. For so long you think it's your fault and most of the time these people are in a position of power over you," said Kennedy, who was honoured with a humanitarian award in Swift Current, Sask., over the weekend — the city where James was his coach.

"With Greg, I feel for him that his case was stayed," Kennedy continued. "I think it's important that we stand up. It's not just me. We're standing together."

According to an agreed statement of facts, James started fondling Fleury in September 1983 while the hockey player slept. The groping and fondling escalated over a two-year period to a point where James would masturbate in front of Fleury before performing oral sex.

The pattern was almost identical with the second victim. Those attacks took place between 1989 and 1994.

Some legal experts have said James could get a conditional sentence to be served in the community, since he has already done time for similar offences during the same period.

James offered a deal

Kennedy said he believes James was offered a deal for pleading guilty or for the charges related to Gilhooly being stayed.

Crown attorney Colleen McDuff said in December that no plea deal was struck and the Crown will be asking for prison time.

Kennedy said even if the sentence is light, it would still help bring public attention to the sexual abuse of children.

"If Graham does get a conditional sentence, there's going to be a lot of people that aren't happy with that, and it will cause quite a ruckus. We need to be able to make sure we direct that in a proper manner."

Fleury suggested the judge is likely to reserve decision on the sentence. If that's the case, he hopes to be able to make it to the actual sentencing.

"But the 'final' has already happened for me. I'm already past it," he said.

"I have taken my own personal journey, my own personal path, and I am in a great place in my life. And the reason why I'm there is I get the opportunity on a daily basis to help other people who have gone through similar situations get where they need to go."