In a case whose perpetrator’s actions span three decades and has attracted a considerable amount of attention, former hockey coach Graham James was sentenced three days ago to two years in prison for sexual assault. James plead guilty to sexually assaulting two teenage boys hundreds of times while they were players on teams he coached.
James is a former Western Hockey League Coach of the Year and 1989 Hockey News Man of the Year. James had been previously convicted of a sexual assault in 1971 and was also sentenced to three-and-a-half years in 1997 for sexually assaulting two other boys, including former National Hockey League (NHL) player Sheldon Kennedy.
The sentencing for his most recent conviction has properly generated wide-spread criticism.
Provincial Court Judge Catherine Carlson accounted for the abuse of trust, the degrading and humiliating nature of the sexual assaults – repeated hundreds of times to victims under the age of 18 – and whose cumulative effect has been significant and devastating to victims Todd Holt and Theoren Fleury.
However, Carlson J. also pointed out that Mr. James expressed remorse, apologized to his victims and has experienced what she called ‘an extreme degree of humiliation’ – factors that warranted a reduction in his sentence from a possible maximum of 10 years to the two year sentence handed down.
A Globe and Mail editorial (click here to read) entitled ‘Judge didn’t grasp magnitude of James’s crimes’ accurately, in my view, captures the criticism: ‘There is something annihilationist about what he did. It was an obliterating violence he committed on their sense of personhood, repeated over and over and over and over. These crimes need a sentencing approach that recognizes the difference between one or two sexual assaults and the hundreds that Mr. Holt and Mr. Fleury endured. Not a single one of those assaults should receive a sentencing discount …. [H]is behaviour needs to be denounced to express society’s revulsion and pain at the victimization of the vulnerable, and at the abuse of trust. Provincial Court Judge Catherine Carlson spoke of that abuse, of degradation, of the total control exercised by Mr. James, but then gave him credit for an expression of remorse, an apology, the “extreme degree of humiliation” he experienced and his willingness to come back from Mexico without an extradition hearing. He deserved no such credit.’
A two year prison sentence for savage predation upon two vulnerable and trusting human beings is not enough.