I can’t think of a victim more vulnerable than a child or a crime more despicable than child molestation. Today we understand that children subjected to sexual abuse face unimaginable psychological hurdles that pursue them into adulthood. Most children are abused by individuals they know, not strangers. An innocent child has no reason to expect that a family member, adult family friend, school teacher or soccer coach has sexual designs on them.
A sexual assault case that shattered the world of hockey, from the outdoor rinks in small-town US to the National Hockey League, was the case of Canadian junior hockey coach Graham James. Mr. James was convicted of dozens of counts of molestation involving two young junior hockey players, including ex-NFL player Sheldon Kennedy. He plead guilty in 1997 and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Mr. Kennedy later wrote a book describing the fall-out from Mr. James’ conduct including ongoing nightmares of the assaults and an attempt to mask his pain with cocaine.
James served his time and then disappeared, only to resurface last week in Mexico after additional criminal charges were brought against him. The new charges relate to NHL star Theoren Fleury and another unnamed hockey player. It was these new charges that brought to light the fact that Mr. James received a pardon for his offences in January 2007, a process intended to encourage and support criminals who have turned their lives around and are no longer involved in illegal activities.
The Canadian government expressed shock when they learned that pedophile James had been pardoned and was completely free from the stigma of his past crimes. Immediate steps were taken to amend the law concerning pardons and on June 30, 2010, the former waiting periods before one could apply for a pardon, were substantially increased.
Prior to the amendments, offenders convicted of minor crimes could receive a pardon three years after their sentence was completed, while serious offenders, like Graham James, had to wait five years. Now an offender must wait ten years in respect of personal injury offences where the offender received imprisonment of more than two years and in the case of serious sexual assaults. All other serious offenders and sexual offenders convicted of more minor offences must wait five years.
Lawmakers are still debating further changes to the legislation including changing the word “pardon” to “record suspension”; eliminating pardons for sexual offences against minors and pardons where an offender has three or more convictions for serious crimes.
Meanwhile, Mr. James has returned to Canada and is in custody in Winnipeg to face his additional victims. It is expected that more men will find the courage to come forward in the face of the publicity and the brave paths blazed by Sheldon Kennedy, Theoren Fleury and others.