graham james

By Bruce Owen, Winnipeg Free Press - Mar 20, 2012

The Winnipeg courtroom fell silent Tuesday as Graham James stood up and turned toward the large gallery, head bowed, not looking at anyone.

One of the most vilified men in Canada then put his hands behind him as two sheriff’s officers handcuffed him.

The snap of cuffs locking shut was the only sound. And with that, a hunched-over James, a shell of the confident and boisterous junior hockey coach he once was, was led away to begin serving a concurrent two-year prison sentence for repeatedly and systematically sexually abusing former NHL star Theoren Fleury and Todd Holt, Fleury’s younger cousin, when he coached them as teenagers during the 1980s and early 1990s.

“Yay,” one person said as James was escorted out. “Bye Mr. s—.”

Fleury and Holt weren’t in the courtroom but two other men, also victims of James, spoke for them.

“It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” Greg Gilhooly — who has gone public with the way James sexually assaulted him while a young hockey player — said of seeing the former coach handcuffed. “Now, does it change my life on a go-forward basis? No. But did it put a smile on my face? Abso-friggin-lutely.”

“At least he’s going back to jail,” former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy said, adding he was initially expecting James would get a non-custodial conditional sentence.

In a joint statement, Holt and Fleury said the two-year sentence was a “national travesty.”

“We know that childhood sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions in our country,” Holt said. “Graham James once again perpetrated his crime and spread his sickness right through the courts of Canada.

“He conned the judge with his ‘poor me’ and ‘I regret’ statements. His lawyer defended the indefensible, and he’s been rewarded for doing so and Graham James is laughing all the way back to the life he’s always led knowing that justice for him is but a blip on the radar.”

In her sentencing decision, provincial court judge Catherine Carlson described James as a master manipulator who preyed on Holt and Fleury, coercing sex from them in exchange for keeping their dreams alive of playing professional hockey.

“If they said anything about the assaults, they believed, and in fact it was so, that Mr. James could have put an end to their hockey aspirations,” Carlson said in her decision. “Mr. James could essentially do what he wanted to do to them, and could rely on their compliance and silence, because he controlled whether they would get the chance at what they really wanted or would have their dreams crushed. And so, Mr. Fleury and Mr. Holt became mired in putting up with Mr. James’ sexual assaults on them, and not saying anything about them to anyone, in the hopes that they could just keep playing hockey and maybe, one day, reach the National Hockey League.”

Carlson also said that James had made strides in his life after his first conviction in 1997 after Kennedy filed his criminal complaint, staying out of trouble and finding a job with a Montreal software company. James was released from prison in 2000 after serving about 18 months of a 3 1/2-year sentence.

James is eligible for day parole in September when will have served six months of his two-year sentence. He’s eligible for full parole when he serves one third of his sentence, meaning he could be released in November.

“Whenever he is granted parole he’ll hopefully have a chance to return to his life,” James’ lawyer Evan Roitenberg said.

The Crown had been seeking a six-year sentence while the defence was asking for a conditional sentence with no jail time.

Carlson said in her decision that she considered the “relentless” media scrutiny of James in her sentence.

“Mr. James has experienced an extreme degree of public humiliation,” she said. “Indeed Mr. James’ career and reputation have been ruined. He is, of course, the author of his own misfortune. But, while publicity and stigma are ordinary incidents of the criminal justice system, and are not always cause for mitigation of sentence the fact that the intense media scrutiny of Mr. James has lasted for such a prolonged period of time, and has been relentless, is a factor to consider.”

She also commented on James learning to cope with his sexual deviancy — he’s attracted to adolescent boys and has a foot fetish — since he was first released from prison.

But Kennedy and Gilhooly said the time James spent in therapy is nothing compared to what they and other victims of James have had to endure.

“Sheldon and I have each individually been in therapy longer than Graham will have been consecutively in jail with first conviction and this go-around,” Gilhooly said. “For Graham to be held out as a rehabilitated individual, it makes a mockery of what the word rehabilitation means.

“He’s a monster. He is who he is. His words mean nothing.”

Kennedy said he’s still in therapy.

“It’s a been a lifetime of working and rehabilitating with counsellors,” he said. “It’s been two-hour sessions a week to just stay on track myself. To sit (in court) and hear that Graham James has been rehabilitated really drives me nuts. I think that was the most disturbing part of it all.”

Kennedy also said the lesson in the James’ case is that victims of sexual abuse need to come forward not only to hold their attackers accountable, but to begin to heal.

“Not only do we need to heal and get our power back, but we need to keep coming forward so we can keep raising the bar,” Kennedy said advocating for tougher sentences against sex criminals. “To me, it’s all of us pulling on the rope. We’ve all got to pull on the rope to make the invisible trauma and damage that these issues inflict on victims visible.”