Graham James could avoid more jail time

A law professor says former junior hockey coach Graham James could avoid more prison time despite pleading guilty to new sex charges.
Graham James, as he appeared behind the bench as coach and general manager of the Swift Current Broncos from 1986 to 1994. (CBC)

A law professor says former junior hockey coach Graham James could avoid more prison time despite pleading guilty to new sex charges.

Anne McGillivray from the University of Manitoba says it's possible James could get a conditional sentence to be served in the community.

James, 59, pleaded guilty Wednesday to repeated sexual assaults on former NHL star Theo Fleury and another junior player who cannot be identified under a court order.

An artist's sketch of the Graham James hearing in Winnipeg on Wednesday. James (left) sits with his lawyer Evan Roitenberg via video feed from Montreal. ((Tom Andrich/Canadian Press))

The charges date from a period between 1983 and 1994 — roughly the same time during which James assaulted three other players, offences for which he has previously served time.

McGillivray says a defence lawyer could argue James hasn't been convicted of any crimes since that period in the 1980s and '90s.

Crown attorney Colleen McDuff has said she will be seeking penitentiary time, but McGillivray says that's not a given.

"What the judge could do is consider the time that has passed since that period in the accused's life and say, 'Well, look, we've had 20 years … where we've had no similar conduct, so we're not looking at specific deterrence and we're not looking at rehabilitation, because that's all done.'

"A lighter sentence could include no jail time. It could include a conditional sentence."

There is no shortage of people calling for a harsh sentence.

Fleury said he would like to see James locked up for 27 years — the same length of time Fleury struggled to come forward with his accusations.

The Law Courts building in Winnipeg, where Graham James pleaded guilty on Wednesday to sexually assaulting two players he coached in the 1980s and early '90s. ((CBC))

Roz Prober, head of Beyond Borders, a group that battles child exploitation, said James should not get a break because of his earlier convictions.

"It's ludicrous … to assume that because crimes that happened to different victims happened at the same time — and some victims took longer to heal and come forward — that this should be seen as the same crime," Prober said.

"It's a totally different set of crimes with a different set of victims."

There's already been one change to James's record because of the newest charges. A controversial pardon that was granted to him in 2007 was revoked.

James is unlikely to receive another pardon, because a bill now before the Senate would ban pardons for people convicted of sexual offences against minors.

That bill is expected to become law by March.

Former NHL player and sex abuse victim Sheldon Kennedy said he plans to attend the sentencing for Graham James in February to look his old coach in the eye. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

James's lawyer, Evan Roitenberg, has not indicated what he will seek for his client when he is sentenced in February in Winnipeg.

It could also be the first time in years that James will face one of his victims.

Sheldon Kennedy, who was the first to come forward with accusations against James in 1996, said he plans to attend. Like Fleury, Kennedy made it to the NHL, but for many years hid that his junior hockey coach had abused him.

He was one of the victims identified in the original convictions against James.

"I think I need to be there, absolutely, because I think I'm at a point where Graham does not have any power over me today," Kennedy said.

"I need to be able to look him right in the eyes and he'll be hanging his head.

"I guarantee it."