The news that convicted sex offender Graham James received a pardon in 2007 is sickening.
But one of his most prominent victims see this moment as "the break we've been looking for" to put pressure on the Canadian government to better protect children from pedophiles.
"What happened [Sunday] was something that I believe was an amazing opportunity for us. Once and for all, there is no more sweeping this under the rug. I will not allow it," former Calgary Flames and New York Rangers star Theo Fleury(notes) told FAN 590 in Toronto this afternoon.
"We've put children's lives in danger. We pride ourselves in being a very safe country. But a decision like that really doesn't do anything but put fear into people's lives that have children."
Fleury revealed to the hockey world last year that he had been abused by James when he played for the junior hockey coach; years before James was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison back in 1997, after pleading guilty to assaulting ex-Boston Bruins winger Sheldon Kennedy (stunned by this pardon) and another player.
In 2007, the National Parole Board gave James a pardon, one of 14,748 Canadians given a pardon in 2006-07 according to the Canadian Press, which broke the story. (An aside: Check out this interesting post about "Graham James and the Privacy Act" in relation to the CP's reporting.)
As lawyer Gord Kirke told FAN 590 on Monday morning, "pardon" means the criminal record for James would be restricted — meaning that there'd be no public access to his conviction. Meaning James could apply to be a junior hockey coach, and that conviction would be off his public record*; but this doesn't shield him from future criminal complaints, like the one Fleury is attempt to file in Winnipeg.
The CP reported the news in a story about the latest former player to come forward with allegations against James of sexual abuse:
He alleges James abused him when he was a young would-be prospect of a Winnipeg-area junior A hockey team in 1979-80 — years before the sexual assaults for which James eventually pleaded guilty. The man was never coached by James, but is haunted by him to this day.
"When I found that Graham had been pardoned, in many ways it was just so wrong and it gave me an easier target to go at," the man, who does not yet want to be identified, told The Canadian Press.
"Rather than deal with my demons with Graham, now I have an abundance of anger for the National Parole Board. Whether that's misdirected anger, I don't know. ... I can't for the life of me fathom how something like that happens."
Fleury said he learned of the pardon via text message when the news broke, and "went through a bit of a process" to understand his emotions and the possibilities that were revealed when the news came to light.
"It's not about anger now. Anger is an emotion that does nothing but mess things up," he said. "I was able to take a step back [yesterday] and say, 'This is the opportunity we've been looking for.' "
Fleury told FAN 590 that he's now an advocate for protecting children from sexual predators after having made his revelation about James. He said there could be an "endless" number of victims because these offenders can repeat their behavior.
Which is what makes the James parole decision so stunning, to the point where the Canadian government may work to change oversight on parole decisions. From the Montreal Gazette:
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says he will consider new legislation that would make it harder for sex offenders like Graham James to receive pardons from the National Parole Board. Toews, in an interview Monday with Canwest News Service, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper contacted him on Friday after learning that James, a former junior hockey coach, was pardoned in 2007.
"There is very little discretion on the part of the National Parole Board to grant these pardons once the statutory criteria have been met," Toews said.
"Clearly, there are certain types of offenders I have concerns about ... and sex offenders fall into that category."
This level of attention is exactly why Fleury sees this moment as a potentially constructive one for victims of sexual abuse. "I'm disappointed, I'm upset and I want someone to take some accountability and responsibility for making this type of decision," he told FAN 590.
"I want to see some action happen. I want to see things put in place to make sure this will never happen again."
Does he believe a pardon means Graham James, whom he said may "possibly" be living in Montreal, could have been rehabilitated?
"No, not at all. I don't believe it in my heart of hearts. For him to go through that process to get pardoned should [make him look like] a guy who's trying to escape, and maybe slip through the cracks so he can continue to do what he's always done."
(*Ed. Note: Blogger and lawyer Tyler Dellow wrote in to correct Kirke's assertion on the pardon. If someone like James applied for a job with a criminal background check, they would go to the police for that check. In the case of a convicted sex offender, any job that would require interaction with children offers a special circumstance for disclosure of prior convictions that have been pardoned.
Basically, there is a regulation found here in which "the applicant consents to an additional level of search so that any convictions for sexual offences for which pardons have been received be disclosed," according to Dellow. If the applicant doesn't offer his or her consent ... well, there's a giant red flag right there.
Thanks to Tyler for the clarification.)