PM 'deeply troubled' by James' pardon

BRYN WEESE, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 12:02 PM ET

OTTAWA – The National Parole Board's decision to pardon convicted sex offender and former junior hockey coach Graham James is "deeply troubling" and "gravely disturbing," and the Prime Minister wants an explanation.

James was convicted in 1997 of sexually abusing several of his hockey players – including ex-NHLer Sheldon Kennedy – from 1984 to 1995. He was coaching the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League at the time.

He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in 1997, but was quietly granted a pardon in 2007.

Former NHLer Theoren Fleury also alleges James, now 58 years old, sexually abused him during his time in junior hockey. Fleury went to the Winnipeg police in January after publishing a shocking tell-all memoir last year detailing the alleged abuse by James over several years.

"The actions of this convicted sex offender shocked the conscience of a nation – one where the bond of trust between coaches and players in our national game is sacred," said Dimitri Soudas, a senior spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "The Prime Minister has asked for explanation on how the National Parole Board can pardon someone who committed such horrific crimes that remain shocking to all Canadians."

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he was "quite surprised" pardons were given out so easily, and is making it a “priority” to fix the legislation.

Not only does the National Parole Board have what Toews called "limited" discretion to refuse pardon applications, but convicts are allowed to apply for pardons after only waiting three or five years after serving their sentence, he said. The length of time required to wait depends on the seriousness of the offence.

"Virtually for any offence other than murder, which is punishable by life … any other offence is eligible for a pardon after five years of completion of the sentence," Toews said Monday. "What struck me is that in some cases where perhaps a person is a serial offender with a long string of offences over a long period of time … there's no discretion for the parole board to refuse an application wherein those five years the individual has been clean.

“In fact, maybe they've not been caught, and that does concern me."

Toews said he plans to review the Criminal Records Act with an eye to not only lengthening the prerequisite time convicts must wait before they can apply for pardons, but also giving the National Parole Board more discretion to refuse them.

"Should their function only be an administrative one, that is 'the conditions have all been met, therefore we're going to rubber stamp it,' or should there be some greater judicial discretion?" Toews asked.

In Canada, a pardon does not erase a convict's criminal record. Instead, it keeps the information separate and does not show up on police checks of the Canadian Police Information Centre.

In the case of sex offenders, though, the person's name is flagged on the system and their criminal past would show up in a background check for someone with a sex offence conviction applying to work with children or other vulnerable people.

bryn.weese@sunmedia.ca


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