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.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

There is no evidence the current pardon system is broken.

There is nothing that can be said or done after a child’s innocence is stolen that will ever bring it back.
That’s the staggering consequence when trust between child and adult is violently breached, whether in a sexual assault or other physical and mental torment.
That’s why we revile sex crimes, particularly those against children. It is not hatred or spite or bloodlust. It is revulsion, that anyone who once claimed a role and place in our society as a civil human being could behave in such a manner and could hurt someone else so thoroughly.
When Graham James was a hockey coach, he not only repeatedly committed such a vile trespass, he did so while using his authority to mentally torture his victims. In the case of former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, he threatened his young charge with a shotgun.
In the case of a second victim, who has maintained his privacy for more than a decade, it was the suggestion that to get ahead as a hockey player, he had to spend time with James.
This young man was far from home while playing junior hockey in Swift Current. He was repeatedly abused by James, to the point where he asked other team officials, in terror, to keep the coach away from him. Sent to live in a strange community, James was, for all intents, supposed to act like a parent.
Instead, he raped him.
When combined with the case of Kennedy, James committed child rape more than 300 times. Another former NHLer who for a time lived with James, ex-Calgary Flame Theoren Fleury, has since come forward and accused the former coach, and he is again under investigation.
Reporters who covered the case at the time of James’ arrest know well there is likely at least one more former NHLer who club officials felt might have been a victim.
Given the number of years James was in charge of youth hockey players, it seems doubtful others aren’t similarly impacted.
Three years ago, James was pardoned. An unforgivably callous act, the decision calls for nothing less than an immediate change to Canadian law. Treating this monster with the same deference as speeders and potheads is, simply put, sick.
Sex crimes must be removed from consideration for pardons in Canada. Our society demands nothing less.

I completely disagree. The public is misinformed. This man has already served his sentence and hasn't re-offended since being released, and probably never will, according to statistics. 

In the past 10 days there have been two similar but unrelated incidents, one local and one national, that raised the same concerns.
Police record checks are a common practice in our society, and people who are involved with kids or vulnerable member of society are familiar with the concept.
Somewhat surprisingly, at least one service club in Stratford wasn't doing police record checks, even though its members had plenty of contact with youth through the Hoops for Fun basketball program, the fishing derby and a bike rodeo.
That came to light after a former executive member with the club pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography charges. The man had a previous criminal conviction for sexual assault that presumably would have surfaced had the club insisted on police record checks for its members.
To its credit, the club is now among the first Optimist clubs to insist on police record checks. It is also important to note that there has been no suggestion whatsoever that any of the criminal activity impacted the Optimist Club.
The important thing now is that other clubs not only here in Stratford but across Canada should learn from what happened here and also insist on police record checks for their members. If they don't, other clubs could and probably will find themselves in a similarly uncomfortable situation.
The local situation was followed by something even more unsettling but on a national level. Former junior hockey coach Graham James was pardoned in 2007, meaning the man who exploited players under his control has no criminal record.
Now, to be fair, pardon or no pardon, James will probably not find another position with any hockey organization in Canada, given that his crimes were so high profile, involving at least one and quite likely two National Hockey League players. Those revelations followed by the trial garnered a lot of national media attention, so James is not about to surface quietly in any role that involves youth.
Regardless, the fact that he was pardoned means other similar offenders almost certainly were as well. And it's logical to assume that if these people have managed to get their criminal records expunged, then a police record check would come back free and clear.
So in the case of the local service club it was an oversight that has since been corrected.
One suspects that Canada's rather lenient, if not reckless practise of pardoning criminals, including sex offenders, might be a little harder to fix. Members of Parliament, including Justice Minister Vic Toews, insist something will be done to tighten things up, but one wonders.
It would certainly be in everyone's best interests if the national loophole could get closed up as quickly as the local one.

Canadians can only wish that the country's highest-ranking economist -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- had been as on the bit when it came to the economy as he was on the crime file this past weekend.
So incensed was Mr. Harper at learning that former hockey coach and convicted sex offender Graham James had been granted a pardon three years ago that he made an apparently rare phone call to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to make sure that the National Parole Board "always and unequivocally puts the public's safety first."
Mr. Toews said of the call: "The prime minister doesn't call me every day, and he doesn't call me on Good Friday because he has nothing else to do. He is very concerned about this issue."
The minister has every reason to believe the call from his boss was more than a request for assurances. The crime and punishment file has always played high on the Harper government's agenda. Not so high that it actually gets much accomplished, but high enough that the PM and various justice ministers get excited and indignant every time a criminal gets mentioned in the news.
Tough-on-crime legislation constituted a significant part of the minority government's program in its first year of office, but most of the bills were allowed to die on the order paper when an opportunity for a majority seemed to present itself.
The issue was still important enough in early June 2007 -- just six months after Mr. James had been granted the pardon -- that the Conservatives held a splashy news conference in Ottawa and had a dozen ministers fan out across Canada to announce a new omnibus tough-on-crime bill that included much of the recently deceased legislation.
According to then Public Safety minister Peter Van Loan, the changes would make Canadian streets safer and "prevent sex crimes."
Just more than a year later, and days before it became clear Canada had again entered an era of deficit spending and on the cusp of what was expected to be the worst economic downturn in 70 years, Prime Minister Harper ignored his own set date election law and sent Canadians back to the polls. The omnibus bill died before it could receive royal assent.
Even though it had effectively forced all three opposition parties to co-operate by parading victims of crime before the Commons, the government still accused obstructionist "soft-on-crime" senators for not getting through the bill faster than Mr. Harper could prorogue Parliament.
That the opposition parties were then, and continue to be, too meek to stand up to the government's bully tactics says it all about the politics of crime in Canada, and why this country increasingly is adopting tactics discredited even in the U.S., where many of them originated.
Five months after that 2007 launch of Canada's omnibus bill, the Georgia Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the hysterical restrictions the state had placed on the mobility and registry of sex offenders.
A month later, California admitted that similarly punitive registry requirements had resulted in the brutal murder of a sex offender, who believed he had done his time and taken all the necessary treatment to be allowed back in society. In a chillingly familiar refrain, the accused killer insisted he acted because "there is no curing" those who commit sex crimes.
Mr. Toews said Monday he is committed to changing Canada's pardon system -- even though the evidence shows it encourages offenders to rehabilitate themselves and stay out of trouble -- because "certain types of criminals cannot be rehabilitated."
The National Parole Board has issued 234,000 pardons since 1970, Fewer than three per cent have been rescinded -- something that can happen even on a suspicion or allegation of a wrongdoing.
Mr. James is far from a sympathetic character and his crimes are unconscionable. However, rather than have a prime minister getting all worked up on a holiday weekend, society is better protected if even a suspicion of wrongdoing can cost the former coach his pardon.
There is no evidence the current pardon system is broken. It doesn't need to be fixed.

Former Calgary Flames Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy are applauding a review of pardons granted to sex offenders in light of the one granted to Graham James, but both said they hope possible changes in Ottawa aren't just politics.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says he will consider new legislation that would make it harder for sex offenders like James -- a former junior hockey coach convicted of sexually assaulting two of his players, including Kennedy -- to receive pardons from the National Parole Board.
Toews, in an interview Monday with Canwest News Service, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper contacted him Friday after learning that James had been pardoned in 2007.
James's former players were caught by surprise by the pardon, but said they hope changes happen.
"I hope that the snowball is rolling down the hill and it gets bigger and bigger," said Fleury.
"Sometimes politics is about saying the right things, but it's not necessarily that they do that action step that's so badly needed to be taken at this point."
Kennedy added he's "glad it happened because I think it needed action. I think the public outcry was enormous."
Toews said there is very little discretion on the part of the National Parole Board to grant pardons once the statutory criteria have been met.
"Clearly, there are certain types of offenders I have concerns about . . . and sex offenders fall into that category," said Toews.
Toews said he will look at whether sex offenders and repeat violent offenders should have to wait longer than the current five years after serving their sentences to receive pardons for their crimes, or whether they should fall into a category of offenders who are excluded.
Pardons effectively make a criminal record invisible to the public and therefore make it easier for offenders to travel and find jobs.
However, the board said police are alerted of past sex offences during crimin
al record checks of sex offenders who have been pardoned and are looking A10 for work that
involves children or a position of trust.
Kennedy said he is still concerned a pardon adds a barrier that makes it harder for people to learn about sex offenders.
"Crime against a child, I don't think should be hidden from the public," he said.
He also thinks pardons are given too easily. "I quickly went online yesterday, and it's pretty much 1-800-DIAL-A-PARDON. It's a five-minute application. That bothers me because with all the youth organizations across the country, they all use police checks to protect their organizations from the Graham James's of the world," said Kennedy.
The board said to be eligible for a pardon, an applicant must finish serving their sentence, go through a waiting period and have committed no further offences.
"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 crimes," said the board in a statement, after refusing an interview request.
University of Calgary law professor Chris Levy said the proposals Toews is advocating would be a significant change from current pardon practices. "I think the minister is undoubtedly saying something that will be politically popular in most quarters," said Levy.
If enacted, he foresees a possible charter of rights challenge on the basis of equality.
"Why should someone who runs a Ponzi scheme and rips people off for millions and millions of dollars be able to get a pardon more quickly after the expiry of the sentence than someone who damages young hockey players?
"Morally, we may feel that we have an answer to that question, but is it simply a moral judgment or is this is a distinction that has to have some underlying rational basis, as opposed to merely an emotional basis," said Levy.
James was sentenced to 31/2 years in federal prison in 1997 after he pleaded guilty to assaulting Kennedy and another unnamed player about 350 times over 10 years.
Fleury also claimed in a memoir published last year that he was sexually abused by James. He went to police earlier this year, although James has not been criminally charged following the allegations.
The executive director of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse said the pardon of a high-profile sexual abuser won't make it any easier for people to come forward and report when they are the victims of sexual assaults.
Danielle Aubry said the James pardon is "an outrage."
"When, when, when are we going to make these people accountable? The only way they can become accountable is when we have structures in society that take this issue seriously. It's more than frustrating," said Aubry.
"The people that are coming into our agency for counselling, or people who aren't, look at these kinds of situations, and how does that provide hope for you that people are going to believe or that people are going to take what you have to say seriously?"
The parole board said if someone is pardoned but convicted of another indictable offence, the pardon is automatically revoked and the criminal record is reactivated.
smassinon@theherald. canwest.com
Graham James Timeline
- - Born: Feb. 7, 1952, in P.E.I.
- - 1970: Quits hockey as a player due to bouts of asthma.
- - Mid-1970s: Graduates from university; works as substitute teacher; begins coaching career.
- - 1979-83: Coaches junior A hockey, winning the Manitoba provincial title with the Fort Garry Blues.
- - 1983-84: Named head scout of the WHL's Winnipeg Warriors. Recruits both Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy.
- - 1984: Hired as head coach of the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors.
- - 1986: Hired as head coach and GM of WHL's Swift Current Broncos. He acquires Kennedy in a trade.
- - 1986-94: Eight-year stint with Broncos nets a pair of WHL titles in 1989 and 1993 and a Memorial Cup.
- - 1994: Joins Calgary Hitmen as part-owner, GM and head coach.
- - Nov. 22, 1996: Calgary police charge James with two counts of sexual assault involving 100s of incidents against two of his former players over a span of 10 years.
- - Jan. 2, 1997: Pleads guilty to sexual assault. Sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. The Canadian Hockey Association imposes a lifetime ban on coaching.
- - 2001-03: In spite of the ban, he coaches several teams in Spain, including the national team.
- - 2003: A civil lawsuit against James is settled out of court. The suit, filed in 1999 by an anonymous victim of James's sexual abuse and his parents, named as defendants the Canadian Hockey Association, the Western Hockey League and various other hockey organizations and individuals, in addition to James.
- - 2009: Fleury alleges James sexually molested him from the age of 14

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