OTTAWA — The man who blew the whistle on the routine pardon of a serial sexual predator, resulting in dramatic changes to Canada’s criminal pardon system, is demanding that his voice be heard.
Greg Gilhooly of Oakville, Ont., was among three new accusers of former junior hockey coach Graham James who went to police with abuse allegations, but on Wednesday the father of two was denied his day in court.
James, 59, pleaded guilty via videolink to sexually abusing two individuals, including former NHL star Theoren Fleury and an individual covered by a publication ban.
The plea deal with Crown prosecutors in Manitoba saw the charges related to Gilhooly’s allegations stayed.
“I’m at peace with it now,” Gilhooly, 47, told The Canadian Press.
Gilhooly, initially stunned and hurt when first told of the plea deal last week, went to the Crown and requested that the court lift its publication ban on naming him.
“I’m at a point now where I am not prepared to live a life where Graham has any power over me any more,” Gilhooly explained.
“For Graham to play a game and believe he’s won a victory over me by not pleading guilty to my charges, I am not prepared to let Graham win that game. He cannot beat me anymore.”
Crown Attorney Colleen McDuff told the court the decision to stay the Gilhooly charges “followed much consultation and consideration and discussion with the complainant as well” — although Gilhooly says he only heard of the plea as a done deal.
McDuff also said the decision to stay the charges had nothing to do with the alleged victim not wanting to proceed.
Gilhooly was a gangly, talented 14-year-old goalie from an athletic Winnipeg family when he says James first approached him at a hockey tournament in 1979.
In the spring of 2010, after approaching the Winnipeg police with his allegations of sexual abuse, the Princeton University graduate with the law degree from the University of Toronto made a stunning discovery — James had been quietly pardoned in 2007 after pleading guilty in the 1990s to sex charges against two of his former players.
A badly shaken Gilhooly ensured the revelation made it to the public through The Canadian Press. It set off a national firestorm that quickly resulted in profound changes to Canada’s pardon system.
The political and legislative fallout continues to this day and has resulted in much closer scrutiny of all pardon applicants, stringent new rules that prohibit record suspensions for certain types of convicts, including sex offences against minors, and significantly higher pardon application fees for everyone.
That legislative reform has helped Gilhooly through the past few months of emotional turmoil.
His support group of close family and friends, he said, “have reminded me time and again of what we accomplished a year ago in terms of bringing to light Graham’s pardon and the impact that has had — certainly in a positive respect with a view to sexual predators preying on children.”
The latest changes were part of an omnibus Conservative crime bill that passed in the House of Commons this week and should receive Royal assent early in the new year.
“People may have issues with respect to the (Conservative) crime bill as a whole and certain aspects of the changes with respect to pardon laws,” said Gilhooly.
“The pardon laws with respect to those who prey on children — the changes in that respect can be viewed as nothing but positive.”
Sheldon Kennedy, the former NHLer whose 1996 allegations led to James’s first sexual assault convictions, paid tribute to Gilhooly’s contribution Wednesday.
“The way I’m looking at today is there were three people who came forward and Graham only pleaded guilty to two — and the other guy kind of got left out there and took one for the team, if you will,” said Kennedy.
“But he was the individual that brought to the forefront the whole pardon issue.”
Kennedy and Gilhooly have been in frequent contact, and Kennedy said that “as much as he wants to talk about it and pretend that things are good, it’s hurtful. We can’t lose (the) fact he was a huge part of a lot of things, especially around these issues and this whole case.”
Gilhooly today is remarkably composed, given that his own allegations against James will remain unproven in a court of law.
He also has an interesting take on justice that might just disappoint the tough-on-crime, victims’ rights crowd who have championed the pardon restrictions and will now seek a punishing prison sentence.
“I certainly didn’t come forward wanting to be left out in a (plea) deal,” said Gilhooly.
“But at the same time I was probably mistaken if I ever thought I was going to get validation from any third party along the way — be it Graham with an apology or the court system with a conviction. My healing and my progress is only going to come as a result of me dealing with me.”
The sentiment was echoed, after a fashion, by a former Winnipeg competitor of Gilhooly’s who was also approached by James as a young teenager.
“He (James) needs psychiatric treatment,” Paul Buchanan of Winnipeg said in an interview.
“Jail doesn’t do anything for that kind of abnormal behaviour. He’s sick.”
Buchanan was a star forward for the bantam Winnipeg Monarchs, (with a kid named Brett Hull on his wing), when Gilhooly was the starring goalie for the St. James Canadians.
Buchanan vividly recalls being coached by James as a 16-year-old — the only player his age to make the junior A Fort Garry Blues — and then being shunned when he declined James’s invitations to movies and to his home, returning instead to play for his midget team.
“In his eyes I completely betrayed him. I went from being his favourite to someone he hated.”
The following year, when Buchanan graduated full-time to the junior ranks, James benched him until he quit hockey after Christmas. Buchanan was just 17.
Buchanan believes James is willing to publicly plead guilty to abusing former NHLers such as Kennedy and Fleury because he sees it as some kind of twisted accomplishment.
“It doesn’t sound very good to say he targeted Greg Gilhooly,” said Buchanan.
“But he still wants to be one up on Greg Gilhooly, who had the guts to finally come forward after all those years of torment.”
That torment included Gilhooly being asked by police to provide photos of himself at age 14 and 15 for James to identify, only to have the former coach claim he had no memory of a hockey player he’d promoted for a scholarship at Princeton.
“It was incredibly difficult to go back into the scrap books and pull pictures of me, in the belief they were to be forwarded to Graham for his review,” Gilhooly said. “I can’t overstate the impact that had on me.”
Gilhooly’s father was a senior executive with Manitoba minor hockey.
“I don’t think my father could have survived knowing that people he trusted were, in many ways, facilitating what it was that Graham was doing,” he said.
It was one more painful factor in Gilhooly keeping his secret until after his father’s 2003 death.
Nonetheless, Gilhooly counts his blessings. He’s well-educated and in a position “to make good of bad in this situation.”
He also notes he didn’t come from a broken home, poverty, or some other hardship. He wasn’t a child sent off to live the life of the itinerant hockey star.
“I was very much the boy living next door living in what to all appearances was a comfortable family situation — and still was vulnerable to a predator.”
As for his message to other silent, tormented victims of childhood abuse out there, Gilhooly is brutally frank.
“It’s difficult to say without appearing selfish,” he said, but victims of sex abuse have to do whatever they feel is best for themselves at the moment.
“Remember, this isn’t the first opportunity that I’ve had to come forward,” said Gilhooly, recalling the inner turmoil he faced when Kennedy made the first, public allegations against James in 1996.
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the real hero here is Sheldon Kennedy, who came forward 15 years ago when none of us were coming forward,” said Gilhooly. “He had to take all of this on his own.”