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The Globe and Mail

Winnipeg police issue warrant for ex-hockey coach Graham James

Convicted sex offender Graham James, absent from the public eye since his pardon in 2007, as he appeared last week when approached by reporters with CBC News and The Globe and Mail. His appearance has changed dramatically: he’s lost weight, has less hair and is greyer.

CBC News/CBC News

A scar upon the national game reopened as Winnipeg Police issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for Graham James, the one-time Svengali of Canada's junior hockey system who was pardoned three years ago for 350 sexual acts on two teenaged players.

The disgraced former hockey coach, who steered the teenaged careers of Theo Fleury and Joe Sakic toward NHL superstardom and led the Swift Current Broncos to the Memorial Cup in 1989, served 21 months in prison during the late-90s for abusing Sheldon Kennedy and another unnamed player.

At the time, investigators told Mr. Kennedy they believed there were between 75 and 150 more young victims like him, but none would come forward.

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After Mr. Fleury published an autobiography exposing in graphic detail the sexual abuse he suffered under Mr. James and later told his story to Winnipeg Police, investigators turned up several more victims.

"When they were out investigating, a lot of people [didn't]want to co-operate because it was too painful to open up that scar," Mr. Fleury said during a Toronto news conference on Wednesday, explaining why police took nearly 10 months from the time he made his complaint to issue a warrant. "In the end, [the investigation]had to happen the right way."

The warrant stems from "an investigation into complaints of historic sexual assaults," according to a police release. Mr. James is being charged with sexual assault, three counts of gross indecency, indecent assault, sexual touching and another charge, the Winnipeg Free Press has reported.

At least one of the new allegations dates back to the late 1970s, when Mr. James coached junior hockey in the St. James area of Winnipeg. That victim brought his story to police last summer, shortly after learning of his former coach's pardon, according to a friend.

Other allegations date through the 1980s and up to the early 1990s. In those decades, he became a fixture of the Western Hockey League, coaching the Broncos, Moose Jaw Warriors and Calgary Hitmen.

Despite recent advances in the investigation, authorities have yet to overcome one giant hurdle in the case. Mr. James is believed to be residing in Guadalajara, a fact brought to light in a joint Globe and Mail/CBC investigation earlier this year.

He began living and working there after receiving a pardon for his crimes in 2007.

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"We need to get him back here to take the stand," said Mr. Kennedy. "This is one of those cases where we can show society how serious we are about abuse of this kind."

Canada has a formal extradition treaty with Mexico, but all details of such requests are considered "confidential state-to-state communications," according to Carole Saindon, a spokeswoman for Justice Canada.

"I hope it does not come to that," said Evan Roitenberg, Mr. James's Winnipeg-based lawyer. "Mr. James has informed me that he is willing to co-operate with police."

Investigators contacted Mr. Roitenberg on Wednesday afternoon regarding Mr. James, but the lawyer could not provide details of the conversation. "It is now a private matter," Mr. Roitenberg said.

Both Mr. Fleury and Mr. Kennedy say they have spoken with numerous other victims of their former coach's abuse, but they have never revealed names.

"You need to go after the perpetrators, not us," he said. "We are innocent. We were children. People in power took advantage of that."

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