TORONTO — A Toronto courtroom erupted in shouts of anger Thursday when a man who admitted to sexually abusing 18 vulnerable young boys while working as a hockey coach and teacher decades ago was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
Gordon Stuckless, 67, who also worked at Toronto’s fabled Maple Leaf Gardens, was given credit of six months for time served under house arrest, which means his sentence is reduced to six years.
Some victims and their supporters shouted profanities at Stuckless after Justice Mara Greene read the decision, while one woman walked out of the courtroom in protest.
“I’ve had (expletive) nightmares longer than six years,” one man yelled at Stuckless as he was led away in handcuffs.
Outside court, the same man, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban, said he and other victims had served more time behind bars for offences where no one got hurt.
“This man took a whole lot more than just skin, and to just get six years, I can’t comprehend it,” he said. “I think it should have been so much more.”
Gary Kruze, whose late brother Martin was one of the first to come out with allegations against Stuckless in the late 1990s, called the sentence “absolutely deplorable and a joke.”
But he stopped short of criticizing the judge.
“She was tied in with the current laws that we have in Canada and she had to go back and look at historical cases and comparisons. That’s the real problem here,” he said, vowing to push for legal reform.
Stuckless pleaded guilty two years ago to 100 charges related to the sexual abuse of the 18 victims, now in their 40s and 50s. He was also convicted of two additional charges of gross indecency linked to two of the victims.
Stuckless’s lawyer, Ari Goldkind, had argued his client should face a five-year sentence, with two years of credit for time spent on house arrest and steps taken to prevent recidivism — namely the fact that he has voluntarily undergone chemical castration for more than a decade.
Goldkind said Thursday he was pleased with the sentence, but understands the victims’ outrage.
“Their lives have been ruined by him, there is no doubt about it,” he said outside court. “There will be no criticism from me that any victim yells at him, screams at him, screams at me.”
Still, Stuckless “turned his life around,” Goldkind said. “He made a vow never to harm another hair on a child’s head. While many people do not accept that…those are the facts.”
The Crown had called for a 12-year sentence, saying Stuckless has not shown genuine remorse for his actions and cannot be legally compelled to continue taking anti-libido medication.
In her decision, Greene said Stuckless “systematically built relationships with parents, schools and sporting facilities so he would be allowed to be left alone with these young boys, thereby giving him the opportunity to sexually abuse them.”
“Mr. Stuckless would groom his victims by giving them attention or by making them promises of gifts. On occasion, Mr. Stuckless abused his position as a teacher and falsely accused his victims of bad behaviour in order to manufacture an excuse to be alone with a child in order to sexually abuse that child,” she said.
Since his release from prison 15 years ago, Stuckless has admitted to most of the abuse, “has been voluntarily working to address his criminality with others in the community and consistently for many years now expressed remorse for his conduct,” the judge said.
“Moreover, his actions in choosing to take Lupron (an anti-libido medication) provide further proof that he is remorseful and taking responsibility for his actions.”
Greene said she considered the “general range” of sentences for this type of offence in determining Stuckless’s fate, and had to take into account the outcome of his earlier conviction on a similar case.
Stuckless previously pleaded guilty in 1997 for sex assaults on 24 boys while he worked as an equipment manager at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens between 1969 and 1988.
He was sentenced to two years less a day in that case, but that was increased to six years on appeal, less a year for time served. He was paroled in 2001 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
The current case, which deals with abuse that took place between 1965 and 1985, involves several aggravating factors — including threats of violence and four incidents of digital penetration — that were not present in the first case, and as such, “something slightly higher is required,” the judge said.
Stuckless apologized in court earlier this year, saying he betrayed his young victims’ trust and he alone should bear that shame.
“I befriended you, rewarded you, manipulated you. I take full responsibility for my actions in the past,” he said at the time.
“I know that I have caused a lot of harm, pain and shame to all of you. Again, I want to say I am ashamed and sorry for all that I have done in the past abusing you.”
Some of his victims and their relatives have said the trauma they endured left them with permanent emotional scars and, in many cases, pushed them to substance abuse.