Educators must do more to protect kids from sexual abuse, says survivor

Greg Gilhooly, who has spoken publicly about abuse he says he suffered as a teen by notorious hockey coach and convicted sexual predator Graham James, says more needs to be done in the education system to protect kids.

Greg Gilhooly says Graham James used position as teacher to groom him, wants division to prevent further abuse

Greg Gilhooly, 58, says former coach and sexual predator Graham James used his position as a substitute teacher to gain access to him when he was 14 years old. (Submitted by Greg Gilhooly)

A man who has spoken publicly about the abuse he says he suffered as a teen by notorious hockey coach and convicted sexual predator Graham James says more needs to be done in the education system to protect kids.

Greg Gilhooly met James when he was 14 years old and playing for the St. James Canadians, a junior hockey team in Winnipeg. James was coaching an older group of players with that organization.

He says the disgraced former coach's crimes have revealed many failings within the hockey community but few people have questioned the role the education system played.

"The scarier thing is that Graham [James] was also a school teacher, and the school system has never held itself to account, nor been held to account for its failings along the way," he said.

Gilhooly, now 58, says James used his position as a substitute teacher within the St. James-Assiniboia School Division, where Gilhooly was a student, to groom him and ultimately sexually abused him on school property. 

Gilhooly says James — who mentored him in hockey but was never his coach — presented himself as an educator and someone who could help him get into an elite university.

He's now asking the division to provide compensation for what happened to him, and to take other steps to prevent other kids from being abused.

Gilhooly was a student in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division from 1979 until 1982. Graham James, now a convicted pedophile, worked in the division as a substitute teacher. (Submitted by Greg Gilhooly)

Though James pleaded guilty to the abuse of several other former teen players — including former NHLers Sheldon Kennedy, Theo Fleury and Todd Holt — charges in Gilhooly's case were stayed.

About a decade ago, Gilhooly says he asked the school division what had been done after James pleaded guilty to abusing the former hockey players, but didn't receive any concrete answers.

"What did it do when it found out one of its teachers had been a serial child sexual predator?" Gilhooly said.

The St. James-Assiniboia School Division, where Gilhooly went to school, would not say whether an investigation was done into James's time as a substitute teacher.

Wants opportunity to talk with division's teachers

Gilhooly became a lawyer and often speaks publicly about his abuse. He says in late 2020, he learned through a Winnipeg Free Press series that a school official may have known about James's behaviour long before Gilhooly's own abuse began.

That revelation, followed by news of sexual abuse allegations by NHL player Kyle Beach that surfaced last fall, compelled Gilhooly to reach out again to the St. James-Assiniboia School Division.

This time, he asked for $125,000 in compensation to cover therapy and medications he's needed following his abuse.

He also asked for the library at John Taylor Collegiate to be renamed after a school librarian who, though she didn't know about the abuse, consoled Gilhooly.

He also asked for the opportunity to speak with teachers in the division about how to spot the signs of grooming and sexual abuse in kids.

Instead of hearing from the school board, he received a letter from the division's lawyer.

"The letter was two sentences long that said there would be no compensation," Gilhooly said from his home in Oakville, Ont. 

"I asked, 'I'm assuming this means no to everything,' and I haven't heard back."

Graham James arrives at court for sentencing in Winnipeg on March 20, 2012. James pleaded guilty to the abuse of several other former teen players, but charges in Gilhooly's case were stayed as part of the plea deal. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The division would not respond to questions about why Gilhooly's request was turned down.

"The school division cannot provide commentary on legal matters; however, the St. James-Assiniboia School Division is committed to keeping its students safe and creating an environment where students can feel secure," a spokesperson said in an email to CBC.

Gilhooly says he didn't pursue his requests through the courts by suing the division because he didn't want to have to go through the lengthy, costly and painful process of a lawsuit. Instead, he hoped the division would act on its own. 

"There's a right thing and wrong thing to do in our world, and the right thing isn't always to pass things along to a lawyer," said Gilhooly.

Football coach charged

The school division's response to Gilhooly came just days after another Winnipeg coach was charged with abusing students.

"[With] the backdrop being the football coach in the news, I wasn't so willing to just walk away again," Gilhooly said of his decision to take his concerns public.

Kelsey Albert Dana McKay, 51, was charged last week with multiple offences, including sexual assault and luring, after Winnipeg police said they got reports from five adults who alleged the coach assaulted them between 2004 and 2011, while they were students and played football at Churchill High School and Vincent Massey Collegiate. 

McKay is now on unpaid leave from Vincent Massey.

None of the allegations against him have been proven in court.

According to its website, the St. James-Assiniboia School Division has a code of conduct for child protection in place, adopted in 2019. It's unclear what policies, if any, were in place in the late 1970s and early '80s when Gilhooly was a student there.

The division's spokesperson says its teaching and substitute staff complete a program called Commit to Kids, "which helps child-serving organizations reduce the risk of sexual abuse and create safer environments for children."

The division also said all staff are subject to criminal and child abuse registry checks.

Kelsey Albert Dana McKay, 51, is pictured in this photo posted from the Vincent Massey Collegiate Trojans football team Twitter account on Sept. 23, 2021. McKay is charged with numerous sexual offences stemming from allegations made by former students and football players he coached at Vincent Massey and Churchill high schools in Winnipeg. (VMC Trojans Football/Twitter)

The Pembina Trails School Division, where McKay works, also has policies regarding inappropriate interactions with students.

But Gilhooly says policies are only effective if people are acting on them.

"We can speak about a culture of accountability till the cows come home, but if people aren't going to do what they are supposed to do it doesn't matter what rules you have in place," he said.

He also wants institutions to avoid hiding behind lawyers when it comes to taking responsibility for abuse.

"Never let your humanity fall away just because a lawyer tells you you can do this," said Gilhooly.

"The carnage that is left long after the actual sexual abuse is unimaginable, and so the next time someone approaches you for help, don't send it to your lawyer — take a look around and try to do the right thing."