I assume that most Canadians are familiar with the Graham James case but in case you are not familiar with the case let me bring you up to date. In 1996 Sheldon Kennedy (and another unnamed hockey player) reported to police about their sexual abuse they suffered by their former hockey coach, Graham James. In November of 1996 James was charged with sexual assault and on January 2 1997 James pleaded guilty to 350 sexual assaults against the two young boys. He would be sentenced to 3.5 years in a federal institution. In 2001 he was paroled by the National Parole Board of Canada, and the Canadian Hockey Association handed him a life time ban on coaching. In 2010, the media revealed that James was given a pardon by the National Parole Board of Canada for these crimes in 2007 (sparking a national
Let’s fast forward to Jan 6, 2010. Theo Fleury came forward to the police to report that he also suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of his formed hockey coach. James pleaded guilty to sexually abusing Fleury and his cousin Todd Holt, after which a third victim came forward to say that he to also suffered abuse (those charges however would be stayed). And on March 12, 2012 he was sentenced to 2 years in prison for those crimes. So let’s review shall we? James was found guilty on 350 accounts of sexual abuse on two young men (all of to whom he was in a position of trust and authority). He received 3.5 years in prison, and was then pardoned in 2007. In 2010, he faced new charges of sexual assault and received 2 years in prison. To top this all off the media broke this week that James could be out on day parole as early as September 20, 2012 and could be out on parole on November 18, 2012 under current parole legislation.
The Canadian public is slowly fighting back, demanding tougher sentences, and harsher rules in regards to sex offenders. A friend of mine, Amy Stewart, was a driving force behind the “No pardons for sex offenders” bill that got passed as part of the government’s omnibus crime bill on March 12, 2012. For over a year Amy worked with various politicians to get this bill presented and passed in Canada that would no longer allow sex offenders to get pardons by the National Parole Board of Canada. It all started from a group on Facebook called “Convicted Sex Offenders Should NOT Get Pardoned” and before long Amy was in contact with her MP pushing for a no pardons for sex offenders legislation. While this is a good start in terms of making victims feel like some kind of justice will be served and significantly cuts down on the secondary victimization that we face in the court system. Canada still has a long way to go. Amy would most likely agree with me. She was quoted by City TV as saying “So this is definitely a good start. As a parent I feel that my kids are a lot more protected. Now I’m not so concerned that a sex offender’s gonna be a hockey coach or a ringette coach anymore – but I still feel that we have lots more work to get done.”
So what more needs to be done? If we look closely at the new Mandatory Minimum Sentences ( I will refer to these as MMS now) put in place by the omnibus crime bill (ironically on March 12, 2012) the sentence that James faced is in line with that new bill. Now under normal circumstances I am not a proponent of MMS they do not deter crime (as is proven in the research), and they tend to make a judges jobs harder, and can sometimes put a lot more power in police officers hands (as they will get to decide what charge is laid therefore determining the potential sentence of the crime). However in this case I say, boohoo for you. We are not talking about property damage, drugs, or theft. We are talking about sexual assault, of children no less. In other words this is NOT about deterring the crime or even rehabilitation (though both would be nice) this is about justice, this is about ensuring that victims can come forward and know it is not all pointless. This is about sending the message that this is not acceptable behaviour. It is already difficult enough to stomp out victim blaming ideology we do not need our court system reinforcing these beliefs, and when sentences like this are handed down that is exactly the messages being sent.
As a victim of sexual assault when I see a sentence of 2 years I feel sick inside.This is not limited to just one case. In February of 2011 a judge in Winnipeg was quoted as telling a court room that sex was in the air, and noted a victim of sexual assault was wearing a tube top, too much make up , no bra, and high heels. He sentenced that rapist to a two year conditional sentence. The laws have many issues that need to be taken care of. For example, under the new omnibus bill someone who rapes a child gets less time than someone with 6 marijuana plants? Or as Mike McIntyre (a popular crime reporter from Winnipeg) pointed out on Twitter “Food for thought: If Graham James held up a 7-11 with a gun and didn’t hurt anyone, he’d be staring at a MMS of 4 years in prison.” This sends the message that sexual assault is not to be taken seriously. I can tell you that this confirms I made the right decision in not reporting to police, and it confirms that until things change I won’t go to police if I am assaulted. The costs for me as a women are too great. If we take into consideration that we will have to face victim blaming questions: such as where we were, who we were with, and what we were wearing, coupled with the stigma we could face from family, friends, peers, and the general public, then you add in the fact that the offender will face 2 whole years in prison with the possibility of release in 6 months? I don’t think so.
In short we all need to pull together and let the government, and people like James know that we will not stand for such violent acts against people. Proper MMS’s need to be put into place for sex offenses and as a society we really must be willing to acknowledge that yes they are about punishment, and retribution. Can we please stop using rehabilitation as an excuse to let these offenders off easily (and I am a proponent of rehabilitation, but we must strike a balance). One young women from Airdrie managed to get a law passed, why can’t we as a society finally stand up and have proper legislation put into place so victims feel like they too have a voice that will be heard without them having to be re-victimized over and over? We need to send the message to victims that it is not their fault, and the message to offenders that if you do this you will face significant time in prison. Again, do I believe it will deter sexual assault. No. Do I believe that victim interests can be served with harsh MMS for sex offenders? Yes. The judge was quoted as saying that the Canadian criminal justice system is not one of vengeance, and while I would tend to agree with her I would also point out that there must be consequences for your actions, and that victims must feel as though their trauma was taken into account when sentencing someone. This is deeper then just one case and indicates that a restructuring of our justice system is badly needed.
For me Graham James’ own brother sums things up nicely telling the Sun“throughout this latest process, I can’t help but think of the Bernie Madoff case Madoff is in jail for 150 years for stealing people’s money. Graham stole much more than that from his victims-their childhoods, their lives, their dreams- and got just a few years.” This sums up the justice system nicely. Steal people’s money? You are thrown to the wolfs. Rape a child? Rape a women? Meh, that’s alright here in Canada people aren’t as important as money anyway. The reaction from the public has been much the same, so I will leave you with some thoughts from Canadians:
“The Graham James sentence was bad. What’s worse, though, is that nobody was all that surprised about it”
“Graham James up for parole in September #seriously ?”
“Canadians are crying about Graham James sentence- tough on crime cpc gives longer sentences for pot? Go Figure”
“The sentence today is nothing short of a national travesty because we know that childhood sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions in our country” – Theo Fluery and Todd Holt
“The sentences don’t come close to the damage that it leaves in its wake” – Sheldon Kennedy
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