New law would bar pardons for pedophiles

Graham James (QMI Agency files)

Graham James (QMI Agency files)

Tom Brodbeck, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:57 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Two years ago on Easter weekend we discovered that former junior hockey coach Graham James was given a pardon for sexual crimes he committed against teenaged boys two decades earlier.

This weekend -- as James serves the third week of a two-year prison term following fresh convictions last month of sexual crimes against minors -- we can take some comfort in knowing that, under a new federal law, Canada's most reviled and notorious pedophile will never get a pardon again.

"He has committed sexual offences against minors and that would disqualify him," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the QMI Agency this week. "He's ineligible on the basis of sexual assaults against minors."

Canadians were horrified when they learned in April 2010 that James had quietly received a pardon in 2007 -- seven years after completing his first sentence for sexually assaulting teenaged hockey players in the 1980s and '90s.

The federal government vowed immediately to review Canada's pardon laws and to make changes to prevent pedophiles like James from having their crimes removed from the public record.

Two years later, that legislation has been approved by Parliament, and Toews said he expects it will be proclaimed into law within the next month or two.

Among the changes, "pardons" will be called "record suspensions." And anyone convicted of sex crimes against minors will be ineligible for a record suspension, including James.

"The evidence is overwhelming that these guys don't change, and they shouldn't be able to hide their record," said Toews.

The man who exposed in 2010 that James had received a pardon -- Greg Gilhooly, one of James' victims -- says he's relieved Ottawa has revamped the pardon laws so pedophiles like James can no longer hide their crimes from the public.

"It's about time that things started moving in the direction away from the criminals and towards the impact the criminals have on society," said Gilhooly, a Toronto lawyer who travelled to Winnipeg to attend James' sentencing hearing last month.

"I think it's important to send a strong message that sexual offenders are sexual offenders for the rest of their lives and that they are not allowed to apply for any removal of what they've done from the public records."

Indeed. I'm not sure why the hug-a-thug crowd opposes this change. We've heard from opponents of the revamped pardon laws that it's an attack on criminals.

Actually, the pardon laws are still quite generous to criminals who are not convicted of sex crimes against kids. Under the new law, a criminal has to have more than three convictions with sentences of two years or more to become ineligible for a record suspension. It means that people who make a few bad decisions in their lives and are sentenced to less than two years in jail are still eligible for a record suspension and can still turn their lives around if they choose.

If anything, the new pardon laws are too generous to criminals.

Meanwhile, Gilhooly says he hopes the Crown appeals James' two-year sentence, adding the penalty was far too lenient.

"I think the judge just got it wrong," he said.

A spokesperson for the prosecution branch said Thursday that James' sentence is still under review and that no decision has yet been made on an appeal.

The Crown has until April 19 to appeal the case.


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