CALGARY — Shocked to learn parole officials granted a pardon to Graham James, Sheldon Kennedy is worried it opens more doors for his former coach to re-offend.
He also figures the freedom to travel that comes with a pardon means James is likely abroad and outside the grasp of Canadian prosecutors now.
“This pardon probably gave him the opportunity to be off and running again, wherever he may be,” said Kennedy, 40, who was sexually abused more than 350 times by James in the mid-80’s.
“I know how he operates and this gives him an opportunity to get right back into manipulating and lying to get into a position of trust to do what he does with kids.”
When told a pardon is routine and designed to give criminals a chance to get on with their lives by making it easier to travel or get a job, Kennedy said parole officials dropped the ball.
“It’s kind of a shocker but I understand these things go on,” said Kennedy, stunned the pardon was granted three years ago.
“The whole thing got slid under the radar. I think with Theo Fleury’s (accusations) and other investigations - we’re going to see what kind of predator Graham was.”
Kennedy echoed the comments from the Prime Minister’s Office which demanded to know more about how the case could be pardoned after shocking and infuriating Canadians with James’ 1997 conviction and three-and-a-half year prison sentence for abusing Kennedy and another player while coaching in the Western Hockey League.
“I think because of the high profile nature of this case they had a great opportunity to set an example – make a strong statement - and they didn’t do it,” he said.
“I think there needs to be an explanation. What bothers me is in a matter of 13 years he can be investigated, plead guilty, serve his term, get a pardon and then get on with his life. It takes a lot longer than 13 years for abuse victims to get on with their lives.”
Kennedy, who has dedicated his life to preventing abuse, is glad red flags are still raised when someone with a pardon applies to work with kids. But he has a major issue with James being pardoned despite showing no remorse.
“Like most pedophiles I don’t believe Graham ever felt he did anything wrong,” said Kennedy, who added it “blew his mind” when James got out of jail in 2001 and started coaching youths in Spain until 2003.
“I never saw any regret – he never owned any of his actions.”