WINNIPEG — A two-year sentence imposed on former hockey coach Graham James for his most-recent sexual assault conviction had both his victims and ordinary citizens questioning Canada’s justice system Tuesday.
Retired Calgary Flames star Theo Fleury, one of two teens James admitted to molesting when they played junior hockey for him, called on Canadians to get tough on sexual predators.
“Children are not safe in this country,” the one-time NHLer said on his Twitter feed after the sentencing.
He urged Canadians to use their votes in the next election to push for change from the government.
“I don’t care who it is as long as the laws change in this country.”
Many Canadians seemed to agree.
“Next election, I am voting for anyone who promises to put child molesters away for life,” tweeted Aaron DeGroot, who bills himself as a Winnipeg Jets fan.
“The only way to change the court system is when we vote — let’s make this an issue in the next election,” Darlene Gibson from British Columbia chimed in on Twitter.
The other victim James admitted abusing was Fleury’s cousin, Todd Holt. At a news conference in Cochrane, Alta., he called the two-year sentence a travesty and warned that there are other predators out there just like Graham James.
“There’s a boy out there dreaming his dreams and hoping his hopes until Graham James crosses his path — and cross his path he will,” Holt read from a statement he jointly crafted with Fleury.
“He preys upon the unsuspecting, all along knowing that not much will happen to stop him. The courts of Canada have guaranteed that … It’s time that the predators know that they need to take notice and be scared.”
Holt and Fleury didn’t attend the sentencing in Winnipeg, but another victim did. Sheldon Kennedy came forward in 1996 and was one of three people James admitted to assaulting. The former coach would spend about 18 months of a 3 1/2-year sentence in prison.
Like Fleury, Kennedy became a prominent player in the NHL. He took a somewhat pragmatic approach to the sentence Tuesday.
“I think you always hope for more, but I think you’ve got to understand what’s going on and try to stay realistic,” he said outside the Winnipeg courthouse.
“We have moved the bar and, even though it’s not what everyone wants to see, we’re moving in the right direction.”
Ottawa lawyer Greg Gilhooly also alleges he was assaulted by James, but the Crown stayed charges related to his case. He also showed up for the sentencing and had harsher words for the law.
“The building here is called the Law Courts Building. It’s not called the Hall of Justice,” he said. “Graham James was never going to get justice today. He was going to get a legal result.”
Gilhooly said it was “unfathomable that a guy like Graham gets two years for what he did.”
There were good things to come out of the case, said a prominent victims’ advocate, even though she agreed with Fleury that tougher sentences are required.
“The problem … is that the bar is set so low in the courts on sentencing of sex offenders,” said Roz Prober, president of Beyond Borders, an advocacy group for sexually abused children.
“We must sentence these offenders in a much more severe fashion.”