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Graham James arrives at court for sentencing in Winnipeg on March 20, 2012. Disgraced former junior hockey coach James has been granted full parole. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)
Graham James arrives at court for sentencing in Winnipeg on March 20, 2012. Disgraced former junior hockey coach James has been granted full parole. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Graham James granted full parole on sex offences Add to ...

A decision to grant convicted sex offender Graham James full parole sparked outrage Thursday from some of the players he abused when he was a junior hockey coach.

James, 64, is serving a federal sentence for sexually assaulting players with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.

The Parole Board of Canada’s decision followed a hearing in Quebec, where James has lived for several years.

The move to grant James full parole was swiftly denounced by some of his victims.

Related: After decades of silence, Swift Current and hockey community face invisible damage of child abuse

Victims’ rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHLer who was abused by James in his junior days, tweeted: “My thoughts are with his victims that struggle every day ... and all victims.”

In an interview with Calgary radio station CHQR, Kennedy said he believes James is likely to reoffend and that he won’t stay away from minors.

“I personally am disappointed and I feel a sense of fear for Graham James entering our communities again,” he said.

Ex-NHL star Theoren Fleury, another of James’ sexual targets, repeated in a statement that “Canada is the Disneyland for pedophiles.”

“With this judgment we are now, as always, to continue to focus on the path of healing and forgiveness,” Fleury said. “If you are looking for closure from the justice system, this in many cases will never happen.”

James, who works in technology sales in Montreal, was granted day parole in January and was living in a halfway house and part-time in an apartment. With full parole, he will now serve the remainder of his sentence in the community.

James is prohibited from being employed or volunteering if it puts him in a position of trust with minors.

The other conditions of his full parole are:

  • Not being in the presence of minors without an adult approved by a parole officer.
  • Not communicating with his victims or their families.
  • And having to report any relationship he begins with a male to his parole officer.

The conditions will remain in place until his sentence expires in 2019.

Parole board members said Thursday that James has shown “observable and measurable” progress over the past months, presents a low risk to reoffend and is ready to move to the next phase of his rehabilitation.

Fleury, Kennedy and Fleury’s cousin, Todd Holt, are among the six former players James has been convicted of sexually assaulting hundreds of times.

On Thursday, James said there were likely about 20 victims, but that most were “one-time touching” and that anyone he’d spent a lot of time with had come forward.

The parole board keyed in on impact statements from some victims. One said James took away his “soul and dignity,” while another said the assaults left him a “broken and battered” man. Another was ready to commit suicide.

James told the hearing his acts were “horrific” but that he didn’t see himself at the time as a sexual predator.

He said he was homosexual at a time when, he claims, it wasn’t acceptable and that his victims bore the brunt of his inability to have a healthy sexual life.

James said he “abused his position” and gained a better understanding of that after being “slapped upside the head in therapy” while jailed in 1997.

“I feel ashamed, I feel that I failed the people for whom I had the greatest responsibility and to whom I was closest,” he said.

“It was a great failure in my life that I let them down.”

James was first sentenced to 42 months in 1997 for abusing Kennedy and two others. He served 18 months and was paroled. He sought and received a pardon in 2007, which came to light in 2010 when a victim came forward to The Canadian Press.

In 2011, he pleaded guilty to sexual offences involving Fleury and another victim.

James was given a two-year prison sentence in 2012 before the Manitoba Court of Appeal increased it to five years in 2013.

Two more years were tacked on in 2015 after James pleaded guilty to similar charges.

He has not reoffended since his first release from prison in 1998.

“While no one can be zero-risk, I feel that I am,” James said. “I believe that I have led a life that has moved in that direction.”

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