We deserve more than rhetoric for sex-offender's pardon

, Last Updated: 6:34 PM ET

It took only a single member of the National Parole Board — not a group decision, not a board debate — to pardon the disgraceful Graham James.

A single member who now should identify himself.

A single member who should explain to the public how it is he or she found — under the Pardon and Clemency laws — that, in the best interest of the public, a pardon for the hockey-coaching sex offender was warranted.

A single member whom the board should identify should he/she be unwilling to do so.

The parole board, which embarrassed itself recently by unequivocally buying Mike Danton’s tale, has further isolated and embarrassed itself with the breaking news that James was pardoned, not yesterday, not today, but in 2007.

Pardoned before Theo Fleury ever told his story. Pardoned without a member of the public finding out about it. Pardoned while no one was given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the youth of Canada.

Whoever made this decision needs to go public now. Whoever determined that James’ reputation was worth more than the ruined lives he has left behind has to explain himself. Good for the Prime Minister’s Office for getting involved and demanding some answers. But the answers Monday did not come from the Parole Board.

All we got was political rhetoric.

In a statement released by the Board on Monday afternoon, they explained: “The Criminals Record Act does not differentiate pardon applications by the type of offence they have committed, nor does it allow the Board to refuse to grant a person a pardon based on the nature of their crime ... The Board considers each pardon application on a case-by-case basis. The review process includes verification through police records and direct contact with law enforcement agencies. Where it is established that a pardon applicant does not meet the criterion of good conduct, a pardon will be denied ... A pardon is not meant to erase or excuse a criminal act. A pardon means that the record of the conviction is kept separate and apart from other criminal records.”

Now this upsets many of us, including Gordon Kirke, a prominent Toronto lawyer who wrote the Players’ First Report after the James-Sheldon Kennedy case became public.

“The idea you would treat a shoplifter in the same way you would treat a man convicted of sexual abuse of minors is absurd,” Kirke said.

“I’m surprised by two things here. The fact that this happened and I’m surprised by the fact that it has been secret for three years. And if there is any purpose or mission in the system protecting society and in particular the youth of society, what do we take from this?”

As the parole board, or a single individual on the board made this unexplainable determination, who spoke for Canadian youth? And how, knowing what we know, could you pardon Graham James?

In order to coach minor hockey in this country, you need to pass a police check. The only part of the parole board’s statement that made any sense at all was the fact the public cannot access James’ history as a pedophile but if police do a check for community activity purposes, “an unsolicited message” will alert them “there is a sex offence on record.”

The pardon can be revoked, however, and in this case could be.

“If there is evidence of further criminal activity, a pardon can be revoked. If the individual is convicted of another indictable offence, the pardon automatically ceases to exist,” the board statement read.

So if Fleury’s case, which in January was being investigated by the Winnipeg police, proceeds forward James could lose his pardon. Or if the case proceeds of an unidentified man who claims now he was abused by James — which led to this story being broken — the same could occur.

“I believe in the pardon system,” Kirke said. “I have no problem with the pardon system. But there should be a distinction drawn for acts of abuse against children. First and foremost, we have to protect our children.”

And shouldn’t that, more than anything else, be the goal of the National Parole Board and all Canadians?

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos