Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Graham James Pardon Part 5

WINNIPEG — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says the federal government will look for ways to stop "rubber-stamped" pardons after revelations that sex-abusing hockey coach Graham James was granted one.
"I think there needs to be a little more direction given to the (National Parole) Board in terms of what they can consider overall, and that these things should not just be rubber-stamped," Toews said Monday as outrage over the James pardon grew.
"We're taking a look at the legislation to see how we can consider amending (it)."
Toews said he was surprised to learn that James, a former junior hockey coach, was granted a pardon in 2007 for sexual assaults against two teens, including Sheldon Kennedy, who would go on to play in the National Hockey League. The Canadian Press learned of the pardon after a previously unknown accuser contacted Winnipeg police.
Virtually any criminal can apply for a pardon - either three or five years after a sentence has been served, depending on the severity of the crime. The current law gives the parole board only a few grounds for rejecting the applications of ex-convicts. One reason would be if they didn't exhibit good behaviour after their sentenced ended.
According to government records, James was one of 14,748 Canadians given a pardon in 2006-07, while 103 people were refused.
"I'm actually quite concerned about certain types of sex offenders getting pardons, especially pedophiles. In my opinion and in my experience, pedophiles are not easily cured," Toews said.
The government could decide to ban sex criminals from receiving pardons or extend the time they would have to wait before applying, he suggested.
"There may have to be more consideration by the board given to the particular type of offence, and at the present time the board is not entitled to differentiate between offences."
The James pardon sparked indignation across the country, from hockey parents to the Prime Minister's Office.
A spokesman for Stephen Harper called it a "deeply troubling and gravely disturbing" development that demands an explanation from the parole board.
Kennedy said news of the pardon made him angry.
"I'm very hard pressed to believe that there's been change," he said. "I look at the time from when Graham was charged, convicted and sentenced, and now it's written off his record. It was a matter of roughly 12 years and I see people struggling with this - not just Graham James victims, but victims of child abuse who struggle with this - for years and years and years."
Former NHL star Theoren Fleury, who played with Kennedy for the Calgary Flames, has also lodged a formal complaint about James with police. He went to Winnipeg authorities in January after publishing a tell-all memoir last autumn that detailed years of alleged abuse by his former coach.
"I'm shocked and mystified. Imagine somebody who commits that kind of crime being pardoned," Fleury said in a statement. "I thought we had an open justice system. It's just more proof our society has a lot to learn about protecting the victims."
A pardon does not erase a person's criminal record, but can make it easier for an ex-convict to get a job and travel abroad.
James was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 1997. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Ron Jette of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Network called the pardon "justice undone."
"You have to ask yourself," Jette wondered, "What were they thinking?"
The Canadian Society for the Investigation of Child Abuse, of which Kennedy is a board member, reacted with dismay.
"We think it's sad whenever a person who is alleged to have been abusive in a position of authority doesn't face all of the consequences," said executive director Lynn Barry.
"It is very important that those people be held accountable."
Word of the pardon also sparked a flurry of indignant reaction on the Internet, where the pardon quickly became one of the top trending topics on Twitter and prompted Facebook users to vent their disgust.
"I'm pissed off," said one Facebook user. "What is the world coming to?" asked another.

OTTAWA — The rules that allowed a notorious sex offender to be pardoned will be changed, Canada’s public safety minister vowed Monday.
In the wake of news that former hockey coach Graham James was quietly pardoned in 2007 for sexually abusing some of his players, Vic Toews wants the National Parole Board to have more “discretion” to refuse pardons, and offenders to have to be good longer before they can even apply.
Currently, offenders are eligible for a pardon three or five years after serving their sentence, depending on the severity of the crime.
“Virtually for any offence other than murder, which is punishable for life … any other offence is eligible for a pardon after five years of completion of the sentence,” Toews said.
Also, he said, the parole board, which last year granted 98% of pardon applications (39,628), should be able to weigh the severity and nature of the offender’s crime, when considering a pardon, which is currently prohibited by the Criminal Records Act.
“In this case, it appears that it’s essentially a problem with the legislation that we’ve inherited and the board works under,” Toews said.
In a statement Monday, officials from the National Parole Board noted its members “have very little discretion in the granting or refusal of a pardon to an individual, as eligibility is strictly prescribed through the CRA.”
Liberal and NDP MPs agree a review is in order, but Liberal Mark Holland doubts the government’s sincerity to act.
“What happens is every time there is a big case and there’s a lot of public anger, they say they’re going to make changes,” Holland charged. “It’s unacceptable that they wait until there’s some sort of crisis for them to take action.
“I personally feel they play politics with crime.”
It’s not just politicians upset with the pardon.
Sheldon Kennedy, an ex-NHLer who was abused by James, told CBC Monday it was a “slap in the face.”
James was convicted in 1997 of sexually abusing several of his minor league hockey players — including Kennedy — from 1984 to 1995.
He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in 1997.
Former NHLer Theoren Fleury also alleges James sexually abused him, and 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.
On Monday, he reportedly said he was “extremely disappointed” with the news.

OTTAWA -- The Harper government, seizing on the case of notorious hockey coach Graham James, says it is considering a new law that will make it harder or even impossible for sex offenders to secure pardons from the National Parole Board after serving their sentences.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he is on orders from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who called him on Good Friday after learning of James' 2007 pardon.
"According to the law, Graham James is entitled to his pardon and that's the issue we should look at - is the law appropriate in this case?" Mr. Toews told Canwest News Service.
"There are clearly certain types of offenders that I have concerns about ... and sex offenders do fit in that category."
Mr. Toews said he will look at rewriting the law so that sex offenders, pedophiles and others who have a troubled history of rehabilitation do not receive rubber-stamped pardons, as is currently the case.
Another possibility is that they could be excluded altogether, as is the case with offenders convicted of crimes garnering life or indeterminate sentences, he said.
"Is a 19-year-old kid who receives a conviction for an impaired driving offence and then serves his sentence, waits the five years and applies because he wants to get in a police force, should he be treated the same way as a serial offender like a rapist, like a pedophile?" asked Mr. Toews, who is responsible for the National Parole Board.
"In my opinion, there is a substantive difference between the offender, the nature of the offences and the difficulties involved in, if I can say cure, for a sex offender."
James was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 1997 after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and another unnamed player about 350 times over 10 years.
Mr. Kennedy, a vocal spokesman against sexual abuse, said he thinks pardons should be denied to applicants who have not acknowledged the pain they have caused their victims.
James, who went on to coach hockey in Spain after his release from prison, has never apologized, nor has he shown remorse, Mr. Kennedy said in an interview from Calgary.
"I think there has to be a lot more proof that there has been change and to me, there's never been any acceptance on his part of what he's done,"said Mr. Kennedy. "He was right in there teaching kids again. To me, if people really want to change, they wouldn't put themselves in that situation."
Pardons do not erase criminal records. However, they are kept separate from other criminal records, so that they are rendered virtually invisible.
Offenders convicted of serious crimes can apply five years after finishing their sentences, provided they have been law-abiding citizens during that time. Less-serious offenders need only wait three years.
The federal concession permits those who have paid their debt to society to travel, find jobs and qualify for housing. Human-rights laws prohibit discrimination against pardoned offenders.
Mr. Toews, who stressed the value of pardons in helping offenders get on with their lives, said he will also consider whether victims should be notified when an application is granted.
The National Parole Board has little leeway to deny pardons, said director Yves Bellefeuille. The board granted 39,628 pardons in 2008-09. Mr. Bellefeuille said the board typically rejects about 1% of completed applications each year.
"The Criminal Records Act does not differentiate pardon applicants 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 said in a written statement.
Vocal complaints from the Prime Minister's Office would not be enough to warrant the independent board to cancel a decision, Mr. Bellefeuille said.
Mr. Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas lambasted the parole board for pardoning James and failing to tell the government about it.
"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," Mr. Soudas said on Monday in a statement.
"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."
Former Calgary Flames captain Theoren Fleury claimed in a memoir published last year that he too was sexually abused by James and he went to police earlier this year. James has not been criminally charged following the latest allegations.
Mr. Fleury said that he suspects the Harper government is only making political hay over James' pardon and that he does not expect any action will be taken.
"This needs to happen today," he said in an interview. "But is it going to happen? Probably not."
Even if legislation is introduced to make it harder for sex offenders to win pardons, it would fall dramatically short of the treatment programs and stiffer sentences that are needed to crack down on child sexual abuse, Mr. Fleury said.
James served as a junior hockey coach from 1984-97 with the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors, Swift Current Broncos and Calgary Hitmen. His whereabouts is unknown.

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