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Updated: 12th February 2019 06:22

Analysis

A question with no satisfying answer: What to do with sex offender Graham James?

Graham James has been granted full parole despite admittedly having the same desires that drove him to abuse teen boys in the '80s and '90s. His increasing freedom doesn't sit well with a pair of his victims who have concerns about how the justice system deals with sex offenders.

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Former junior hockey coach granted full parole, but his illicit desires remain

Graham James, a former junior hockey coach, pleaded guilty to the latest sexual assault allegations in 2015. At a parole board hearing in Quebec on Thursday, he was granted full parole. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Graham James has left a trail of broken souls in his wake. 

Some have put themselves back together, some are working on it; all of them bear the scars of his unforgivable sexual abuse.

For years in the '80s and '90s, James used hockey rinks as his hunting ground, luring and sexually abusing some of the teenaged boys who had the talent and drive to win a spot on his junior hockey league teams.

He had a reputation as a stalwart coach trusted by community, families and players alike, and he used that standing in the most damaging ways.

James was a much-heralded coach while with the WHL.

Now James has been granted full parole, a hair's breadth from complete freedom, which will be his when he completes his sentence in 2019, assuming he stays on the straight and narrow.

No satisfying answer

Yet he admits he's still plagued by the same disturbing affliction — a sexual attraction to boys. 

He told a parole board earlier this year, "I don't think I can change attraction, but what I can change is my behaviour."

So the question for which there can never be a truly satisfying answer: What to do with Graham James?

When his sentence ends, those attractions aren't likely to miraculously disappear.

It will be up to Graham James to keep himself out of temptation and to not act on his desires.

'I hope he doesn't reoffend , but I'm not convinced he won't' - Sheldon Kennedy 

Sheldon Kennedy, the first of James's victims to publicly reveal the abuse he suffered, is skeptical.

"I hope he doesn't reoffend, but I'm not convinced he won't," Kennedy said in an interview with CBC News.  

The former NHL player turned child advocate is a believer in second chances.

After all, he was given his own as he learned to manage his substance abuse problems and the rest of the fallout from James's horrific actions.

Kennedy, who now runs the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, said this decision demonstrates once again that Canada is failing to tackle the problem of sexual abuse of children. 1:03

He isn't convinced his former coach is truly rehabilitated.

"The rehabilitation isn't ten sessions and say the right thing and away you go," Kennedy said.

Former NHL player Theoren Fleury, also a survivor of James's abuse, was incredulous to learn the repeat offender had been granted full parole.

"How is this possible?" Fleury asked in a statement. "With this judgment, we are now as always to continue to focus on the path of healing and forgiveness. If you are looking for closure from the justice system, this in many cases will never happen."   

And that strikes at a discomfort many Canadians have with the justice system.

'How is this possible?' former NHL player Theoren Fleury said of James receiving full parole Thursday. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

It's one thing for a thief or a drug offender to serve their sentence and go on to live a fully rehabilitated life. It's quite another for a sexual offender, particularly one who still fantasizes about boys, to be granted freedom.

Deficiency in the system 

Danielle Aubry, executive director of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, says the James case highlights a deficiency in Canada's justice system for dealing with repeat sexual offenders.

Graham James claims to now have a deeper understanding of the damage he's caused (Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press)

"I was looking at his history and it was like one after the other after the other," Aubry said of James's offences. "Why hasn't this man been pursued as a dangerous offender?"

A dangerous offender designation would carry an indefinite prison sentence.

The answer is simple and, to many, frustrating: Graham James doesn't meet the criteria.

As far as anyone knows, he hasn't reoffended in many years.  

His sexual abuse, the magnitude of which should never be diminished, happened during the 1980s and 1990s. 

Technically, his crimes are history, even if his victims continue to suffer.

Up to James 

So Graham James, with his abhorrent criminal past and his disturbing desires, will be given another chance.

To keep it, he must stay away from minors and his victims, and check in with his parole officer for a few years.  

James has apparently expressed the right amount of contrition and now claims a deeper understanding of the damage he's caused.

If that remorse is genuine, all we can do now is hope it's enough to keep him from acting on his impulses.  

Ultimately, what happens to Graham James will be pretty much up to Graham James.  

About the Author

Carolyn Dunn

National reporter

Carolyn Dunn is a longtime national reporter for CBC News. Her Canadian postings and assignments have taken her from St. John's to Calgary. She has reported extensively abroad including East, West and North Africa and has done several tours in Afghanistan. Have a story tip? Email carolyn.dunn@cbc.ca.

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