Sex offender Graham James gets 2 years in prison

Disgraced former junior hockey coach Graham James has received a two-year prison sentence for sexually abusing former players, a decision his lawyer calls "fair" but one of his former victims says is a "national travesty."

Former coach abused ex-NHLers Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy, among others

Disgraced former junior hockey coach Graham James is heading back behind bars.

Manitoba provincial court Judge Catherine Carlson sentenced James to two years for sexually abusing two former players —ex-NHLer Theoren Fleury and Fleury's younger cousin, Todd Holt — while coaching them in the junior hockey ranks during the 1980s and early '90s.

The sentence, handed down Tuesday morning in Winnipeg, is two years on each offence to be served concurrently.

One spectator in the courtroom Tuesday shouted "Yay," while another spat out an expletive as James shook his lawyer's hand and was led away in handcuffs.

Carlson had made James stand up in the prisoner's box to hear his fate. He showed no emotion, but simply answered "yes" when Carlson asked him if he understood the sentence.

"Mr. James's victims are multiple," the judge said. "His behaviour was predatory and orchestrated to make victims dependent on him."

Because the sentence was two years, James will serve his time in a federal penitentiary. Had the sentence been one day less, he would be heading to a provincial jail.

The court did not say where James would serve his time.

'Fair decision,' says James's lawyer

The Crown had sought a six-year prison term for James on the latest charges.

The defence wanted a conditional sentence with no jail time. The conditional sentence, of 12 to 18 months, would have included a curfew, monitoring and counselling.

Evan Roitenberg, James's lawyer, said Carlson made a "very reasoned and fair decision," even if the two-year prison term is longer than what he had wanted.

"I have no quarrel with the fact that this judge did a very thorough and reasoned decision, [taking] all factors into account," Roitenberg told CBC News in an interview.

"If it wasn't what I was asking for, so be it. The fact is, Mr. James had a very fair hearing, and that's all anyone can really hope for."

Roitenberg said he does not currently believe there will be an appeal.

Carlson ordered that James have no contact with either of his victims, provide a DNA sample for the national sex offender registry and obey a life ban on volunteering in a position of trust to children.

'National travesty'

Holt responded immediately to the sentence with disappointment.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=2097 size=small]

"This sentence today is nothing short of a national travesty because we know that childhood abuse has reached epidemic proportions in our country," he read from a statement at a news conference in Cochrane, Alta.

"Graham James is laughing all the way back to the life he has always led, knowing that justice for him is but a blip on the radar."

He said James "conned the judge with his 'poor me' and 'I regret' statements.

But when asked by reporters what would have been a suitable sentence, Holt said "I don't think there's a sentence out there that any of us could ask for that was suitable for this type of abuse."

He said he believes Carlson was sincere and respects her decision, though he disagrees with her appraisal of James' progress.

Carlson said it appears James has been able to manage his desires because he has not reoffended since being release from jail for previous sex offences in the late-1990s.

Previously jailed for similar assaults

"I truly believe that Graham James will never be rehabilitated. He's told in the courts that he still prefers young men and that disgusts me," Holt said.

James previously served time behind bars for sexually assaulting ex-NHLer Sheldon Kennedy and two other young players. He was sentenced to 3½ years for those charges, but served just 18 months of that sentence before being released.

Kennedy attended court in Winnipeg on Tuesday but James avoided eye contact with him. Though he was relieved James did not get a conditional sentence, Kennedy would have liked to see his former coach spend a longer term behind bars.

"At least we've got some penitentiary time here," he said. I think in our [justice] system the bar has been set low when it comes to these [sexual assault] issues to begin with, but I think that the bar is moving up slowly."

Typically, sentences "don't come close to the damage that [sex abuse] leaves in its wake," Kennedy added.

While James pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting Fleury and Holt, charges involving a third complainant, Greg Gilhooly, were stayed.

"It's unfathomable that a guy like Graham gets two years for what he did, but at the same time he is going to jail. He'll be in jail tonight. He's going to a penitentiary and that's a good thing," Gilhooly said. 

Assaults escalated

James pleaded guilty on Dec. 7, 2011, to sexually assaulting Fleury and Holt.

Sentencing arguments were heard on Feb. 22 with graphic testimony about what James did to his victims. 

The assaults began as fondling or groping while Fleury or Holt slept, but escalated as the boys became exhausted from fighting off the advances. Eventually, Holt was offered money by James in exchange for sexual acts.

Both Fleury and Holt estimate they were assaulted hundreds of times.

'There is no sentence this court can impose that will give back to Mr. Holt and Mr. Fleury that which was taken by Mr James.'—Judge Catherine Carlson

"I was just a kid. A child," Fleury said in his victim impact statement.

"I was completely under Graham James's control. And I was scared. I did not have the emotional skills, the knowledge or the ability to stop the rapes or change my circumstances. I felt lost, alone and helpless."

Carlson, going over evidence and testimony prior to the sentence being delivered, said what happened to Fleury and Holt is every child's and parent's nightmare.

She said she understood the sense of outrage and there is no sentence she could impose that the victims or public would find satisfactory.

"There is no sentence this court can impose that will give back to Mr. Holt and Mr. Fleury that which was taken by Mr James," she said.

Message of denunciation

Carlson said it's obvious James had "total control" over the teens he molested, as he had threatened to end their promising hockey careers if they said anything.

She referred to Holt's testimony that when he refused James's advances, James would get angry and threaten to end his hockey career.

Carlson said a message of denunciation needed to be sent and that a sentence of probation alone was not appropriate.

Aggravating factors were that the victims were under 18 and James abused his position of trust, she said.

"The nature of the assaults were degrading and humiliating to these teenage boys," Carlson said.

"Mr. James's actions have had a significant long-term and devastating impact on the victims."

However, there are mitigating factors in James's favour, she said.

His guilty plea shows recognition of what he has done and that he has expressed insight into abuse.

She also said the lack of any breaches of his release from a previous sentence suggest he can manage his desires.


Gilhooly, who was in the Winnipeg courtroom for James's sentencing, told CBC News his recovery from what happened continues to be a long and difficult one, he said.

"What's happened here is a crime that is absolutely soul-destroying," Gilhooly said.

"In terms of me looking after myself and getting better … I am only now getting the proper therapy and attention and medication and all of that.

"But I need, in a selfish way, to recover. It is a difficult process and one that I am still in the midst of."

Seeing James return to prison helps that in some small way, he said.

"Does it change my life on a go-forward basis? No," Gilhooly said.

"But did it put a smile on my face? Abso-friggin-lutely."

Pardoned in 2007

After being released from prison following his conviction in the late-1990s, James was pardoned by the National Parole Board in 2007.

He then moved to Mexico, where he was living when Fleury released his 2009 autobiography, Playing with Fire, and revealed that James had molested him.

Fleury then ignited the latest charges against James by going to police in Winnipeg in January 2010 and filing a criminal complaint.

"I was stalked, preyed upon and sexually assaulted over 150 times by an adult my family and I trusted completely," Fleury said in his victim impact statement last month.

CBC News and the Globe and Mail jointly located James in Guadalajara, Mexico, in the spring of 2010.

James returned to Canada after Winnipeg police issued a warrant on the new charges that fall.

James apologized

During last month's hearing, James apologized to Fleury and Holt and to the "Canadian hockey public" for his actions.

Graham James's appearance has changed considerably in the last few years, but he has concealed his face from the media, leaving only court sketches to show how gaunt he is now. (CBC)

James, who appeared gaunt, also apologized to the players, parents and fans in the communities where he coached hockey.

"Parents expected their sons to be safe; not all were," James told the court.

After the hearing, Holt said he did not believe James's apology or that he'd changed over the years.

"I think the only difference between the Graham James of '93 and 2012 is about 180 pounds," Holt told reporters.

When asked what kind of sentence James should receive, Holt replied, "Three lifetimes isn't enough."

Cameras not allowed in court

On Monday, Carlson denied a request by the CBC and three other media outlets to bring cameras inside the courtroom for James's sentencing.

Carlson said bringing cameras into the courtroom raises too many concerns, such as manipulation of the video after it hits the internet and risks of re-victimizing the victims.

James's lawyers have said their client fears for his safety if pictures or reproductions of his image are widely disseminated through television, print media or the internet.

But Gilhooly told CBC News it is key for the public to be aware of what James looks like now.

James has gone to a great effort to keep his face concealed from TV cameras and photographers. He entered court on Tuesday with his face shrouded in a neck warmer pulled up to his eyes.

"Graham looks nothing like he did back in the old days, and even in the pictures that have been presented whenever the story is told of Graham," Gilhooly said. "He was unrecognizable to me in February when I first looked into the courtroom.

"I share some of the concerns that people have with cameras in court, but at the same time, our system of justice needs a bright light shone upon it."

With files from The Canadian Press