As a former newspaper columnist, I think I have pretty rock-solid law-and-order credentials. I recall arguing at various times, before a national audience, in hard type, that criminal justice is properly regarded as an orderly, deliberate species of revenge; that not only is the death penalty a proper prerogative of the state, but that the guillotine is the most humane and reasonable method of applying it; and that the Middle Eastern custom of severing the hands of thieves, while “barbaric”, may be ethically superior in some respects to our own methods of dealing with them.
So I trust I will not be accused of snivelling liberal cowardice when I ask: why should the National Parole Board necessarily come under suspicion or criticism for granting a pardon to Graham James?
It is common for ink-and-pulp tough guys like me to hold the NPB to a standard of perfection that may or may not be realistic. Without question, this body has made clumsy mistakes and appears susceptible to psychiatric fads, unscientific beliefs, and emotional manipulation by shrewd sociopaths. It is responsible for errors of the most spectacular, naïve, foreseeable kind, and it has learned to suffer beatings from the journalistic cudgels—albeit to no very impressive real-world effect—when it commits one. But where is the mistake here?
Is there some evidence that Graham James has re-offended since his release from prison? If there isn’t, on what basis can the decision of Pierre Dion be criticized? Since we have a system of routine, assembly-line pardons for offenders like James, what more can we expect that those given such pardons will do no harm? Has James done some? A radio personality in my city was heard to growl that someone at the Parole Board “ought to be fired”. For what? Accurately foreseeing that James was no longer a danger to the public?
The “fresh allegations” date back to James’ coaching career, and irrespective of his pardon, he is still subject to arrest and prosecution when it comes to offences for which he hasn’t yet been tried and punished. But people are talking as though “pardon” means “plenary indulgence”. James served his sentence—I won’t say “he paid his debt to society”, but he certainly discharged his specific debt to the state—and the history-effacing effects of pardons are rightly limited for sex offenders in the name of continued deterrence and protection of the innocent. And Theoren Fleury may be upset or uncomfortable that James received a pardon, but Fleury didn’t publicly allege anything against James until very recently, and his right to a hearing of his own grievance is in no way affected by the pardon.