SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. — Convicted sex offender Graham James pleaded guilty Friday to sexually assaulting a player who described the former junior hockey coach as his tormentor and his demon.
Justice Tim Keene accepted a joint submission from the Crown and defence that called for two years to be added onto a five-year sentence James is almost finished serving on other charges.
The 62-year-old appeared in a Saskatchewan courtroom via video link from a prison in Laval, Quebec, to enter his plea.
The victim, who was 18 at the time and whose name is under a court-ordered publication ban, was a player for the Western Hockey League Swift Current Broncos.
He said in his victim impact statement that he could no longer live with the “shame, humiliation and lies” and was able to come forward with the support of his wife.
“I don’t have to worry about Graham James anymore,” said the man, who is now 43, as he choked back emotion outside the courthouse.
“I can look forward and know that justice has been served,” he said, although he had hoped for a harsher sentence.
“We’ve suffered for 20-plus years and … he’s getting two years.”
Prosecutor Glen Herman told the judge that James worked to build the victim’s trust and “groomed him” to take part in the abuse.
James confided to the player that he was gay and told him that taking part wouldn’t make him gay also, but would be “helping out a friend,” Herman said.
The player “felt he had no choice but to participate in these activities” because James could “crush” his hockey career, the prosecutor said.
James apologized to the player, the team, the people he worked with and the community of Swift Current.
“Personal weakness kept me from giving what I owed to all of them — my full attention to their aspirations.”
Defence lawyer Robert Skinner said his client “is remorseful and very, very sorry this has happened.”
Skinner said James did very well as a hockey coach and was against violence. “Unfortunately things went very, very wrong.”
It’s the third time James has faced sex charges involving his players.
Two of them, Todd Holt and Sheldon Kennedy, were in the Swift Current courtroom to support the latest victim.
“I think today was a huge step in showing other people out there who don’t have the courage or haven’t found the courage yet to come out, that it’s OK,” said Holt.
James served 3 1/2 years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty in 1997 to sex offences against Kennedy and two others. Kennedy played for the Broncos at the time of the assaults and went on to play in the National Hockey League.
James sought and received a pardon for those offences in 2007, but he was back in court a few years later when Holt and his cousin, retired Calgary Flames star Theo Fleury, came forward with a new allegations.
James pleaded guilty and was initially sentenced to two years in 2012 but an Appeal Court increased the sentence to five years. Although he has been eligible for full parole, James has never made an application.
The new charges were laid last month following an investigation that began after the RCMP received a complaint in September 2013.
Kennedy said he understands why the latest victim was afraid of James.
“When I was abused, Graham James threatened us with a gun. Graham James was a physical presence. Graham James used to let air our of people’s tires right in front of us and throw shopping carts on people’s cars,” said Kennedy.
“He was a mean person. It wasn’t just this nice little guy that abused kids.”