Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Tories reveal tighter pardon rules
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on Tuesday unveiled sweeping changes he said are meant to tighten up Canada's system of criminal pardons.
Toews said the proposed changes to legislation would eliminate pardons and replace them with more narrowly defined criminal record suspensions.
The push for changes to the pardon system stemmed from the case of Graham James, who pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexual assault. Sheldon Kennedy, who went on to play in the NHL, and a second unnamed player came forward with the story of the sexual abuse they suffered when James coached their Western Hockey League teams from 1984 to 1995.
"As all of you are aware, the pardon of convicted sex offender Graham James was deeply offensive to Canadians, to victims and to our government," Toews said during a news conference in Ottawa. "It demonstrated the need to take action to prevent such an outrage from happening again and to ensure our system of justice is not brought into disrepute."
Toews said the changes would make it impossible for those convicted of sex offences against minors to have their criminal records suspended, except in a case where the applicant can demonstrate he or she was “close in age,” and that the offence did not involve a position of trust or authority, bodily harm, or threat of violence or intimidation.
The changes would also prevent those convicted of more than three indictable offences from getting a record suspension.
Toews said the period of ineligibility for a record suspension would increase, from the current three years to five years for summary conviction offences, and from five years up to 10 years for indictable offences.
The National Parole Board granted James a pardon in 2007 after he completed a 3½-year prison sentence. But the news only came to light in April after a previously unknown accuser contacted Winnipeg police.
The National Parole Board said in an explanation issued April 5 that it could not refuse a pardon based on the nature of a crime.
In attendance at the announcement, Kennedy applauded the proposed changes.
"This is been put together, yes, quickly, but with a lot of thought, and I think that it's going to be very beneficial to the organizations and the people that are going to be looking for background checks and so forth moving forward," he said.
"I think it just holds people accountable for what they've done and it doesn't erase what they've done…," Kennedy said.
In January of this year, Theoren Fleury, Kennedy's former WHL teammate who went on to have a stellar NHL career with the Calgary Flames and other teams, filed a police complaint against James.
Fleury alleged in his autobiography, Playing With Fire, that James repeatedly sexually abused him when he was a young player in the 1980s.
Winnipeg police have said that they were investigating Fleury's complaint.
CALGARY -- It must have been the best-kept secret since the disturbing behind-the-scenes criminal activity during his days as a junior hockey coach.
CBC's The Fifth Estate and The National will air an interview with convicted sexual predator Graham James Wednesday as part of an investigative piece.
The exact nature of the story is still under wraps, but a CBC spokesman confirmed Monday the news program is preparing to run a conversation with James this week.
No promotion appeared in print or on the airwaves in advance of the surfacing of one of the most difficult to find and controversial subjects of the past couple of decades in the hockey world.
It was a tweet from former Calgary Flames star Theoren Fleury before hopping on a plane Monday night that captured the attention of his online followers and Calgary media.
Reached later Monday night upon his arrival home from Hamilton, Fleury said he had no clue what James will say, or why he chose to come out of hiding to speak publicly for the first time since Fleury's book Playing with Fire came out as a starting point to a new complaint of abuse being filed by Fleury himself.
"I have no idea (what he'll say). I'm just curious like everybody else in Canada," said Fleury, who was coached by James as a young teenager playing junior hockey for the Winnipeg Warriors — a WHL franchise that later moved to Moose Jaw. "Who knows?"
Considering the Winnipeg Police are still investigating Fleury's claims of abuse filed earlier this year, it might be considered a risk for James to re-enter the spotlight.
However, the interview was reportedly not done in Canada.
James was last known to be coaching hockey in Spain in 2001.
Fleury's only guess as to James' motivation is that he might be in need of money.
Convicted in 1997 of sexual assault after Warriors player Sheldon Kennedy came forward, James served jail time and was banned for life from coaching by the Canadian Hockey Association.
He surfaced in Spain, but the now 58-year-old James has been out of the public spotlight for years.
Fleury will watch the interview like many households across the country, but he's more interested in Tuesday's proceedings on Capital Hill in Ottawa, where legislation will be introduced on preventing predators like James from ever being pardoned. James received a pardon three years ago, a fact that only came to light after Fleury's book was released in the fall.
"I'm doing fine. I wanted the book to have the biggest impact, and it is," Fleury said. "What's happening tomorrow is big — huge — because sexual abuse is the biggest epidemic we have on the planet and for years nobody's done anything about it. We've always swept it under the rug.
"Tomorrow, as they say, we have our day in court. It's perfect."