CALGARY, Alberta — Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy, two former NHL players who say they were sexually abused as teenagers by a junior hockey coach, are among those angered at the revelation the convicted sex offender was pardoned in 2007.
The 58-year-old Graham James pleaded guilty to sexual assault after two of his former players, including Kennedy, told of the abuse they suffered at his hands from 1984 to 1995.
A previously unknown accuser has since stepped forward to expose what he and others consider no less of an injustice: the National Parole Board's decision three years ago to pardon James.
"I look at the time from when Graham was charged, convicted and sentenced and now it's written off his record," Kennedy said. "It was a matter of roughly 12 years and I see people struggling with this — not just Graham James victims, but victims of child abuse who struggle with this for years and years and years."
Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the government was "shocked" to learn of the pardon.
"The National Parole Board made this decision without our government's consent or knowledge," he said.
Parole board spokeswoman Caroline Douglas said the pardons process does not generally take into account the nature of the crime, even those the public finds particularly upsetting.
"We cannot discriminate based on the crime committed," Douglas said. "Very few people are ineligible for a pardon. Everyone else is eligible no matter their crime. We have to follow the law."
Fleury, who played with Kennedy for the Calgary Flames, has lodged a complaint about James with police. He went to Winnipeg authorities in January after publishing a memoir last autumn that detailed years of alleged abuse by his former coach.
"I'm shocked and mystified. Imagine somebody who commits that kind of crime being pardoned," Fleury said in a statement Sunday. "I thought we had an open justice system. It's just more proof our society has a lot to learn about protecting the victims."
James was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 1997 and his whereabouts are unknown. Records show he was one of 14,748 Canadians given a pardon in 2006-07, while 103 people were refused.
Former Calgary Parliament member Art Hanger, a 22-year member of the Calgary Police Service and member of the Canadian Justice Foundation, called the latest development "reprehensible."
"I mean, this man used his authority as a coach and attacked youngsters — vulnerable, vulnerable boys. For the most part, these kind of characters cannot be cured.
"There is no indication in anything that he has done to place himself into the good graces of the Canadian public. I don't understand the parole board's thinking."
Ron Jette of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Network called the pardon "justice undone."
"You have to ask yourself," Jette wondered, "'What were they thinking?'"
The Canadian Society for the Investigation of Child Abuse, of which Kennedy is a board member, reacted with dismay.
"We think it's sad whenever a person who is alleged to have been abusive in a position of authority doesn't face all of the consequences," executive director Lynn Barry said. "It is very important that those people be held accountable."