LAVAL, Que. — Convicted sex offender Graham James, the disgraced former junior hockey coach who abused players under his charge, was granted full parole Thursday.
The decision was handed down by the National Parole Board following a hearing at a federal penitentiary in Laval, north of Montreal.
James, 64, is serving a federal sentence for sexually assaulting players he coached in the late 1980s and early ’90s with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League.
James, who works in technology sales in Montreal, was granted day parole in January and the board members agreed Thursday he’s shown progress over the past months, presents a low risk to reoffend and is ready to move to the next phase of his rehabilitation.
News of the decision was swiftly denounced by some of James’ victims.
Ex-NHL star Theoren Fleury repeated in a statement that “Canada is the Disneyland for pedophiles” as he prepared to speak to high school students in Vernon, B.C.
“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.”
Victims’ rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy, another of James’ victims and a former NHLer, tweeted: “My thoughts are with his victims that struggle every day … and all victims.”
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 around 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 the impact his crimes had on his victims.
Board member Marc Gold read some of the victim statements: 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 he didn’t see himself as a sexual predator at the time and that “rational thinking went by the wayside.”
He said he was homosexual at a time when he claims it wasn’t acceptable and his victims bore the brunt of his inability to have a healthy sexual life.
James described his acts as “horrific.”
“I feel ashamed, I feel that I failed the people for whom I had the greatest responsibility and to whom I was closest,” James said.
“It was a great failure in my life that I let them down.”
Under full parole, James will now serve the remainder of his sentence in the community.
There are several conditions attached that forbid James from being in a position of trust with minors and he cannot communicate with his victims or their families.
The conditions will remain in place until his seven-year sentence expires in 2019.