Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Sex offenders are only a tiny fraction of pardons: Researcher
A former hockey player who says he was driven from the game by coach Graham James hopes new charges and the notoriety sparked by news of his pardon will finally force the convicted sex-offender to take responsibility for his crimes.
Winnipegger Paul Buchanan, 45, who played for James as a teenager in the early 1980s with the junior-A Winnipeg South Blues, said he was singled out as one of the coach’s “favourites.” Buchanan was interviewed by Winnipeg police in January after ex-NHLer Theoren Fleury went ahead with charges against James.
“I made a statement in support of Theoren,” said Buchanan, adding he was not sexually abused by James and is not pursuing charges.
“I think he should be convicted again,” Buchanan said of James. “I don’t like the idea he can hide out in Montreal or in Spain and pretend he’s a nice guy and just misunderstood. He’s ... mean, unpredictable ... he’s not a nice guy.”
James, 58, who also coached the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos and more recently coached in Spain, pleaded guilty to sexual assaulting two of his players, including ex-NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, between 1984 and 1995 and was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison in 1997. James was pardoned by the National Parole Board in early 2007.
Buchanan said when he played for James, the coach would regularly watch players shower in the dressing room with no other adults present and took him and other younger players on overnight trips.
“He was really more interested in hanging out with us at the pool, who were 15 or 16, than with a bunch of 20-year-olds who had played two or three years in the WHL,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan said he believes James still thinks he’s done nothing wrong.
“You could see it in his eyes that he was, in his demented mind, in love with you,” he said. “He thought it was normal and he still thinks it’s normal.”
Buchanan, now a computer engineer, said he constantly turned away James’s aggressive approaches and endured the coach’s anger and open directions to have teammates violently target him in practice.
“I felt defeated and helpless,” Buchanan said. “I tried to tell people and they told me it was all in my head.”
Another unidentified accuser, who may have played minor hockey for James in Winnipeg in the 1970s, has also come forward and is said to be considering pursuing charges. If convicted, James’s pardon could be stripped.
“Until he comes out and apologizes for what he did instead of saying, ‘one day you’ll understand I loved you’, he doesn’t deserve a pardon,” Buchanan said. “I want him to be honest and admit he’s got a problem and that he needs therapy.”
OTTAWA — Only a small fraction of the 400,000 pardons granted in Canada have been for sex offences, says a Toronto lawyer who is writing a book on criminal records.
Michael Carabash, in his upcoming book Criminal Records in Canada, has devoted a section to the National Parole Board authority to pardon offenders after they have served their time and shown they have moved on with their lives.
Carabash, who crunched expansive RCMP data on 2.9 million criminal records, said the numbers revealed that there were 795 pardoned sex offenders, as of 2005. That's about 0.2 per cent of all pardons granted since the system began in 1970.
"When people are saying that sex offenders are routinely and quietly being pardoned, you have to think about that," said Carabash, whose book is expected to be published this year. "There's not many of them."
Carabash believes the number is reliable, as long as the National Parole Board, which does not release a breakdown of crimes garnering pardons, is consistent in notifying police of sex-offender pardons.
The Harper government said this week it will make it harder, or even impossible, for sex offenders to receive pardons, following revelations that former junior hockey coach Graham James was pardoned in 2007.
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.
Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society, said the number of pardoned sex offenders shows "there is less to be concerned about than meets the eye."
The Conservative government, instead of breeding fears that public safety is in jeopardy, should instead study the issue of pardoned sex offenders and make a reasoned decision on whether it should be harder for them to qualify, said Jones.
Furthermore, he said, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was wrong to say this week that sex offenders should perhaps be ineligible for pardons because they have a history of reoffending.
"That is a statement that is not based on the evidence," Jones said. What is known, he added, is that the more sex offenders are isolated as pariahs, the more likely they will be driven to reoffend. Otherwise, their rate of recidivism is below the norm.
Pardons, designed to help offenders who have served their time to get on with their lives, remove criminal offences from public record, permitting recipients to travel, find jobs and secure housing.
While they do not erase criminal records, they effectively make them invisible in routine record checks by keeping them in a separate file and banning disclosure of any information.
There is an exception for pardoned sex offenders, who are flagged in police databases in the event they apply for jobs that will put them in contact with children or other vulnerable people.
Offenders can apply for a pardon after three or five years, depending on the seriousness of their crimes.
They are routinely granted as long as offenders can demonstrate that they have behaved.
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.
Carabash, a business lawyer who also runs a website offering free legal advice, said he does not think sex offenders should receive pardons.
But the law is the law, and until it is changed, it is unfair to accuse the National Parole Board of dropping the ball, he said.
"The pardon system is probably working. It just needs minor tweaking," he said. "I, for one, am not in favour of pardoning people who have been convicted of sex offences but we can't be pointing the finger at the National Parole Board when all they are doing is their job."