Graham James And Our Failed Justice System

I am a little bit ashamed of the country I live in today.  On March 20th, 2012 convicted sex offender Graham James was given 2 years in prison for sexually assaulting 2 boys when he was their junior hockey coach.  This was the second time James has been convicted of sexually assaulting players that he coached, bringing the total to 4.  Another accuser had dropped the charges as part of this most recent case, bringing the total to 5 known victims.  While we will never know for sure, I think it is save to assume that there were many many more.  Graham James is a convicted sex offender, sexually assaulting children, and has been given 2 years in jail.  He will likely be out in 18 months. I am ashamed.

Graham James disgusts me. There aren't really words to describe what he has done, and what the results are.  That isn't really what I want to talk about here, and really, there isn't much to say about him anyway.  Graham James is guilty of abusing his position of trust and power in the most horrifying way possible.  There isn't much more that can be said about the type of person he is.

The problem, once again, falls on the Canadian Justice system.  I quite frankly cannot wrap my head around any justifiable way that a previously convicted sex offender can get convicted again, for the same offence, and actually get a shorter sentence than he got the first time.  I literally cannot figure it out.  Graham James only served about 2/3 of his sentence the first time, being paroled in 2001. Even more remarkably, he was given a pardon in 2007. Thankfully the outrage over the discovery of that has led to meaningful discussion and change on Canadian law regarding pardons.  And now, his second conviction of assaulting two more boys has put him in jail for a total of 2 years, likely being out in 18 months.  This means that he will server roughly 3 years for being found guilty of sexually assaulting 4 boys.  That is less than 1 year per person. I would really like for someone to explain to me how that makes sense, because I can't.

What makes me most ashamed of this situation is that this sends a terrible message.  Think of the counless numbers of children that are put into the care and trust of some kind of coach or mentor in this country every single day.  Those sports coaches, metors, trainers, whatever you want to call them have much more power over the kids that they coach than most people realize.  Taking hockey as the obvious and topical example, young players spend hundreds of hours with their coaches every season.  It is impossible for them not to have an influence.  People in those positions of trust and power over children need to be the most severely punished under the law.  Giving Graham James 2 years for using his position of trust to sexually abuse two boys is beyond shameful.  How can we honestly say that we are a socitey that values and protects our children as much as we can when this kind of message is sent?  Purely shameful.

so the question is, how do we fix this? What is the answer?  The obvious one is that the appropriate tough sentences need to be given out.  Of that I don't think there can be any doubt.  But how do we get there?  We also have to identify the problem. Is the law not strong enough? is the Judge the problem? is there not enough consideration taken to previous offences? Now, personally I don't think you can have a strong enough law for sexual assault on children.  And clearly if a 2 year sentence is even possible, the law is not strong enough.  Some would argue that judges should be elected.  I don't know if that is the answer. On one hand it would make judges accountable for shameful sentences like this, but on the other hand I'm not sure that I want a judge worrying more about doing something to get re-elected than applying the law properly. I don't know what the answer is for that.  And as for precedent, that goes back to the strength of the law. I do not know how it is ok for someone to get a smaller sentence for a second sexual assault offence. that seems backwards to me.

But the point I really want to come back to is what this says about Canada's justice system and our children.  I think that this shameful attempt at justice has shown that our justice system does not truly value protecting our children from being abused by those in a position of trust. I know I've used this word a lot, but that truly makes me ashamed.  On March 20th a judge in Winnipeg stood up and declared that protecting children is not important to our justice system.  While taking nothing away from the terrible things that Graham James has done, that act alone deserves more of our attention than the crime itself.

I wish I could say that I was mad, but I'm not. Shame(there's that word again), is what I feel. I don't want to go kicking and screaming at Graham James, because that will change very little.  What we can hope for out of this terrible attempt at justice is that we can have a real discussion about what happened, and what we can do to effect change to ensure that no child sex offender can get such an insignificant sentence ever again. What has happened this week is unacceptable, and what needs to change is the system, since you can't change the man who did it.