The screening process for hockey coaches in Manitoba — and across Canada — has become a lot more stringent since Graham James’ sexual abuse charges came to light back in 1997.
Peter Woods, executive director of Hockey Manitoba, said coaches are now required to have a criminal record check and complete the Respect in Sport certification before they can step onto the ice.
“We want to ensure we’re taking necessary steps to make sure our members are in a safe environment,” Woods said, adding all minor hockey coaches, bench staff and volunteers within the organization must complete the criminal record check.
The same year James was convicted for sexually abusing former NHL hockey player Sheldon Kennedy and another unnamed player, Hockey Manitoba initiated a program called Speak Out. It was developed by Hockey Canada to educate and prevent bullying, harassment and abuse in hockey across the country.
“It’s important any time they are appointing a coach to emphasize we go through an interview process and follow up on any references,” Woods said.
The Respect in Sport certification program was founded in 2004 by Kennedy and Wayne McNeil to protect youth, inform leaders, and mitigate an organization’s liability, and is now used in sport organizations across the country.
While Woods wasn’t yet with Hockey Manitoba in 1997, he said the community was “completely blindsided” when the James abuse scandal broke.
“I don’t think anyone really had any idea, the magnitude ... of what happened,” Woods said.
James was sentenced to 31/2 years in federal prison, and later received a pardon for the crimes in 2007.
Woods said extra steps are now taken to ensure the safety of the youth, including a second level to the criminal record check to catch possible cases of mistaken identity.
If an individual has the same birthday and is the same gender of someone with a criminal record, they would go through the second stage for verification.
“This is another step that is welcome, and now required,” he said. “I think it demonstrates to the individuals that are trying to hide something that there are mechanisms in place, to make sure our members are in a safe environment.”
The vulnerable sector of the criminal record also catches those people like James, who have been pardoned for a sexual offence.