Junior hockey predator Graham James pardoned

The Canadian Press

4/5/2010 11:41:28 AM

WINNIPEG -- Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says the federal government will look for ways to stop "rubber-stamped" pardons after revelations that sex-abusing hockey coach Graham 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 as outrage over the James pardon grew.

"We're taking a look at the legislation to see how we can consider amending (it)."

Toews said he was surprised to learn that James, a former junior hockey coach, was granted a pardon in 2007 for sexual assaults against two teens, including Sheldon Kennedy, who would go on to play in the National Hockey League. The Canadian Press learned of the pardon after a previously unknown accuser contacted Winnipeg police.

Virtually any criminal can apply for a pardon -- either three or five years after a sentence has been served, depending on the severity of the crime. The current law gives the parole board only a few grounds for rejecting the applications of ex-convicts. One reason would be if they didn't exhibit good behaviour after their sentenced ended.

According to government records, James was one of 14,748 Canadians given a pardon in 2006-07, while 103 people were refused.

"I'm actually quite concerned about certain types of sex offenders getting pardons, especially pedophiles. In my opinion and in my experience, pedophiles are not easily cured," Toews said.

The government could decide to ban sex criminals from receiving pardons or extend the time they would have to wait before applying, he suggested.

"There may have to be more consideration by the board given to the particular type of offence, and at the present time the board is not entitled to differentiate between offences."

The James pardon sparked 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.

Kennedy said news of the pardon made him angry.

"I'm very hard pressed to believe that there's been change," he said. "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 victims, but victims of child abuse who struggle with this -- for years and years and years."

Former NHL star Theoren Fleury, who played with Kennedy for the Calgary Flames, has also lodged a formal complaint about James with police. He went to Winnipeg authorities in January after publishing a tell-all memoir last autumn that detailed years of alleged abuse by his former coach.

"I'm shocked and mystified. Imagine somebody who commits that kind of crime being pardoned," Fleury said in a statement. "I thought we had an open justice system. It's just more proof our society has a lot to learn about protecting the victims."

A pardon does not erase a person's criminal record, but can make it easier for an ex-convict to get a job and travel abroad.

James was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 1997. His current whereabouts are unknown.

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.

"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," said executive director Lynn Barry.

"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," said one Facebook user. "What is the world coming to?" asked another.

-- With Bill Graveland and Shannon Montgomery in Calgary