By New Youth4Change Blogger: Mary McGuire
Like many people I’ve been following the Graham James case for what feels likes forever now. I remember in 2010, while volunteering for an event Theo Fleury was a part of, having him sign his book for my father feeling an unspoken kinship with him. Truth is, I’m a bad daughter and read Fleury’s book before gifting it so seeing him that day, watching him sign it, I couldn’t not feel connected him, to his story of survival. Fleury’s story wasn’t foreign to me, being that I’ve been closely involved with sexual assault survivor advocacy for over ten years now. That said, no story is ever the same. However, they all have a few things in common: inconceivable heart break, shame, confusion, healing and, hopefully, closure and strength beyond what most of us will ever experience.
Graham James originally faced nine charges of sexual assault involving three players over the course of 1979 to 1994. Not long after James had already served a 3.5 year sentence for sexually abusing other former players, Theo Fleury published his autobiography describing in raw detail, detail in which only a survivor could ever recount, sexual abuse he lived with in secrecy for many years – the accused, you ask? Graham James. Graham James, the former hockey coach who abused his position of authority. Graham James, the man who pled guilty years ago for sexual assault but was granted a pardon. Graham James, the man who single-handedly manipulated and abused trusting, young hockey players. Graham James, the man who in 2007 was gently pardoned for his crimes. Graham James, the man whose covered face is plastered all over the media and only serving an additional two years for the lives he’s damaged.When first writing this blog, I was fuelled by my insides screaming of distrust and disappointment toward the Canadian Justice system and the excuses it makes for offenders. Why I’m even hearing a judge explain that Mr. James’ supposed remorse, apology to his victims and humiliation warranted a reduced sentence is beyond me. What a solid kick in the gut! If that’s how I felt I can only imagine what those survivors were experiencing in their heads. Feeling, once again, rather defeated by this predictable outcome I paused for a bit deciding maybe I need to take another angle here. Revisiting what I wrote I asked myself, “Are you surprised by the sentencing?” And, well, no I’m not, not at all. Quite frankly, I’m never really sure even a full sentence feels like justice to me. So I was angry and frustrated just like the rest of you for a while.
Then something really cool happened – public outrage. That’s right, my friends. The community, and not just here in my beloved city, but the larger community on a national level started screaming for justice, taking the words right out of my head. Below are some notable tweets taken directly from Fleury’s Twitter:
joeyarchibald Perhaps we need to start a lobby group similar to M.A.D.D to lobby gov’t on this issue. As a former hill staffer I would help!
@ArleneDickinson Woke up this am so hopeful about justice being served, Now I am asking myself just how messed up is our system? James had his hand slapped.
@BigNastyBruins We won’t let it go off the front pages. Top of mind till change happens
@Baldy67 I am outraged! I’m so proud of you and others who have come forward with their harrowing tales of abuse.”
AmberTraffic I don't know howTheoFleury14 @ToddHolt13 & Sheldon Kennedy feel.. but that sentence makes me sick. Not enough in my mind and heart.
VickiSciannella toddholt13 we support you stay strong. The shame is all his now not yours
@Miss_Tiffide “You may trod me in the very dirt but still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
For a moment I’m going to relish in the exposure this particular case has created. Because of the elevated publicity due to both Theo Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy being sports celebrities, the public has been able to witness the injustices sexual assault survivors’ experience. It has uncovered the harsh realities of the sentencing process of sexual assault / abuse cases. Ending on that note, I can only hope that instead of focusing on the verdict, that just maybe survivors can find some level of comfort in the reactions of the community. It’s times like these that overt media exposure actually acts as a tool as opposed to a platform of selective, misinformation because it’s not only survivors and survivor advocates on the ground preaching frustration, there’s now armies of citizens who’ve become painfully aware and outraged of the injustices. That outrage gives me hope for change.