Former hockey coach Graham James (R) arrives with a lawyer at the Provincial Court of Manitoba for sentencing for sexually abusing two of his former hockey players in Winnipeg, Manitoba March 20, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Fred Greenslade
The case of convicted pedophile Graham James is a perfect example of how far our courts will go to cut criminals as much slack as possible, no matter how horrific their crimes.
James was sentenced to a paltry two years in prison for the hundreds of sexual assaults he perpetrated against two teenage boys over a period of seven years.
The disgraced former junior hockey coach will be eligible for day parole in six months and will likely get full parole by November. This is how serious we treat people who commit sex crimes against children.
Provincial court judge Catherine Carlson talked a good talk Tuesday during sentencing about the need to send a strong message to society that the courts won't tolerate sexual crimes against children.
Unfortunately for society, the good judge failed miserably in her mission -- intentionally or otherwise.
Instead, the message she sent is that the courts are prepared to show sympathy to people who commit sex crimes against kids and that judges will explore every avenue possible to secure the most lenient sentence available.
Sure, Carlson feigned indignation over James' crimes, saying all the right things about how he abused his position of trust and used intimidation against young boys to satisfy his sexual fetishes.
But when it came time to sentence James, Carlson failed to translate her alleged indignation into a fit sentence. Not even close, actually.
Rather, Carlson went through mental gymnastics to arrive at the least punitive sanction possible, using every legal tool available to do so.
For starters, Carlson said that because James has been the subject of severe public humiliation for his crimes that the courts should give him a break. She said the mental anguish he's endured should be a mitigating factor at sentencing.
No, it shouldn't. It shouldn't have anything to do with his sentence. It should play no part in it at all.
Carlson also said James should serve his two sentences against his victims "concurrently." That's another legal tool the courts like to use to shorten the time criminals spend behind bars. It means he gets to serve his sentences at the same time, even though there were two distinct victims.
The court also has to look at the "totality" of James' sentences, she said. That's more legal jargon designed to shorten sentences for criminals.
When courts sentence a criminal for several related crimes, the judge is supposed to consider the "total" sentence for the crime spree -- even if the crimes were committed over several years. And if the court feels the total sentence is unduly harsh and long, the judge is supposed to reduce it. Isn't that nice?
James was convicted in 1997 for repeatedly molesting two teenage boys. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years for that, although he got parole a year later. While in prison, he was also sentenced to another six months for another molestation that came to light. Naturally, that sentence was served "concurrently," too. Which means it wasn't a real sentence.
The latest crimes that James pleaded guilty to were committed during the same period -- in the 1980s and 1990s. But they did not come to light until 2010.
And this is where the mental gymnastics come in.
Carlson says the court should consider what sentence James would have received had his offences against all four victims been dealt with in 1997. She says if they were all dealt with together, a "total" sentence of six years would have been reasonable based on case law.
So whatever she handed out Tuesday, added to the original sentences James received, should be somewhere in the six-year range, total. Ergo, the two-year sentence Tuesday.
Makes a lot of sense doesn't it? It's like three-for-one justice.
And then they wonder why the public has zero confidence left in the justice system.