A high-profile abuse victim of former hockey coach Graham James says he wishes Canada would follow the U.S. in handing out harsh sentences to sexual predators, but doesn’t think there is the political will.
Theo Fleury was reacting Tuesday to the sentence handed down to former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The 68-year-old Sandusky was given at least 30 years in jail after being found guilty in June of 45 counts of child sexual abuse involving 10 boys over a 15-year period.
“The good part is he’s going away for the rest of his life, but I wish they would have given him the full 400 years because that would have sent a real strong message to the world that we’re not going to look at this lightly any more,” said Fleury, who was molested by James during his junior hockey career.
Fleury said it is time for the Canadian government to step up and take a hard line in dealing with sexual predators.
“I would say basically what we’re all thinking is we need to sit down and take this seriously. We look to the government for leadership but there’s no leadership around us whatsoever. We’d rather bury our heads in the sand like we have for thousands of years.”
In the late 1990s, James served about 18 months of a 3 1/2 year-sentence for molesting former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy and two other players.
He got out of jail in 2000 and dropped out of public view until Fleury came forward recently with allegations against the former coach.
James was sentenced to a further two years in prison last March for sexually assaulting Fleury and Fleury’s cousin, Todd Holt, when they played for him in the Western Hockey League in the 1980s and ’90s.
Under that sentence, James can apply for parole and be released by the end of the year. That prompted widespread outrage from both James’s victims and the public.
Fleury said he has raised the issue of stronger sentences for pedophiles with federal politicians, but received little satisfaction from their responses. He wants to make it an issue in the next federal election campaign.
“One of the things on my agenda is to make the next election all about which party is willing to take leadership around the laws in our country. We need stiffer sentences. We need to build bigger prisons,” he said.
Kennedy agrees the sentences should better reflect the “invisible” damage done by child abuse, but he thinks Canada is on that right track.
“I think that we had our Penn State, if you may, (with) the Graham James case 14 years ago. When I look at this I think we are on the right track in Canada,” said Kennedy, who received a Diamond Jubilee medal from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Calgary on Tuesday.
“I think that putting someone away for life is not the only answer, although it’s a feel-good. For us, our best defence is prevention to educate the masses and empower the bystanders.”
Kennedy has become an outspoken champion for the rights of sexual abuse victims since coming forward about James did to him.
“I think if we look at the Graham James case and we look at the Penn State case and many others, there was a lot of people who had a gut feeling something was wrong and didn’t have the confidence to do anything about it,” he said.
James used his position as coach to abuse his victims, who all had dreams of making it big in the hockey world.
During sentencing arguments on the most recent charges, court heard that James would single out his young victims and keep them close to him. He often separated them from their families by convincing their parents the teens needed tutoring and had to spend nights at his apartment. The assaults began as fondling or groping, but escalated as the boys became exhausted from fighting off his advances.
Eight of the boys Sandusky was found guilty of molesting testified at his trial, describing a range of abuse that included fondling, oral sex and anal intercourse. One of the prosecution’s star witnesses, former graduate assistant Mike McQueary, testified that he saw Sandusky raping a boy in a locker-room shower.
Witnesses said Sandusky used the charitable organization he founded for troubled children as his personal hunting ground to find and groom boys to become his victims.
Sandusky has consistently maintained his innocence and plans to appeal.