To say that the National Parole Board rules are in need of an overhaul would be an understatement.
When sexual offenders can apply for and receive a pardon with little or no conscious thought, the system requires major revision — in full view of Canadians.
While the parole board defensively says it is simply applying the rules, shame on them for seeming to never question those rules or wonder aloud what Canadians might think is right.
Pardoned Graham James may not be the worst sexual offender in Canada, but he’s certainly among the most well known. His case drew huge publicity and once again it is making headlines.
James, in a position of trust as a junior hockey coach, pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexual assault of two of his teenaged players, including ex-NHLer Sheldon Kennedy. James got three and a half years in prison. This was not a one-time single event. He assaulted the two players 350 times over 10 years. His present whereabouts are not known, although there’s speculation that he is living in Quebec.
Retired NHLer Theoren Fleury lodged a complaint recently with Winnipeg police alleging he had also been a victim of James when he was younger. No charges have been laid so far in this case.
Last weekend, The Canadian Press broke the shocking story that James received a pardon three years ago. Until this, most Canadians probably had no idea pardons are handed out like chocolate at Easter. In 2006-07, James was one of 14,748 Canadians pardoned — only 103 applicants were denied.
If James could get a pardon, how many other sexual offenders got one?
Readers need to know that “pardoned” does not mean an offender’s criminal record is erased from records.
It does means the information is held separately and doesn’t show up on a database used by Canadian police forces. But someone convicted of serious sex offences is flagged in the database so details of a conviction would be discovered if they applied to work with children or other vulnerable people.
Pardons make it easier to get a job or travel out of the country. A pardoned person cannot be denied access to services or employment with a federal agency.
Sex crimes are particularly heinous. Victims of sexual offences often suffer lifetime consequences. Their offenders do not, and in fact are aided and abetted by the National Parole Board to move on as quickly and normally as possible once they leave prison.
Victims are not notified when criminals are pardoned. They should be, particularly when the crimes are of a sexual and/or violent nature.
A recent high-profile sex assault and kidnapping case in Red Deer saw sexual sadist Gerard John Baumgarte sentenced to 18 years. He pretended to be a police officer when he grabbed his victim, a Central Alberta teenager.
“I feel my niece has to suffer a life sentence and he doesn’t. I think my niece got a worse sentence than he did and that’s where I’m frustrated and angry,” the teenager’s uncle said when the sentencing was over.
I wonder how he, and especially his niece, would feel now knowing that Baumgarte might one day be pardoned and able to go about his everyday life like the rest of us. It’s always about the offenders’ rights, never about the victims’.
In light of latest revelation, federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was making noises on Monday that he will bring in legislation making it harder to get a pardon for certain crimes, such as those of a sexual nature. He indicated such legislation won’t be retroactive.
Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 403-314-4332.