Graham James (ice hockey)

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Graham James
Born (1952-02-07) February 7, 1952 (age 66)
OccupationIce hockey coach
Criminal statusConvicted & Sentenced
Conviction(s)Sexual abuse
Criminal penalty5 years in prison

Graham Michael James (born February 7, 1952), is a former Canadian ice hockey coach for the Western Hockey League and convicted sex offender, named Man of the Year by The Hockey News in 1989 after coaching the Swift Current Broncos to the Memorial Cup championship. This honour was later revoked by The Hockey News[1] and James, through an intermediary, returned the plaque to the offices of THN where it was destroyed. In 1994, James became the General Manager and coach of the Calgary Hitmen.

James attracted national attention two years later when NHL player Sheldon Kennedy came forward to accuse him of sexually abusing him over a period of years as his junior league coach. Kennedy also mentioned that another NHL player had endured the same abuse, but refused to name him. James pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. After completing his sentence, James obtained a federal pardon and left the country, settling in Spain and Mexico. However, in 2009, Theoren Fleury published a book alleging he too had been abused by James in the 1980s, which James again acknowledged as true. In March 2012, he was sentenced to another two years in prison.

On May 25, 2015, it was reported that James is facing additional sexual assault charges in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. The case was adjourned by Judge Violet Meekma until June 19, when the case will be heard in the Court of Queen's Bench.[2]


Early life[edit]

Born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island on February 7, 1952,[3] he played hockey until about the age of 18, when he stopped due to asthma attacks. He then allegedly graduated from university, and worked as a substitute teacher in St. James-Assiniboia School Division 2, Winnipeg, Manitoba. It wasn't until after he began his hockey coaching career that it later became evident that he never actually graduated from university until after he completed the necessary courses for his B.A. while serving out one of his prison sentences.[4]

Between 1979 and 1983, he coached Junior A Hockey, including the Fort Garry Blues with whom he won the Manitoba provincial title. In 1984, he was head scout for the Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League, and recruited two future National Hockey League players to the team, Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy. The team later relocated to Moose Jaw as the Moose Jaw Warriors,[5] and in 1985 James was hired as head coach for the team.[3]

He was the coach and general manager of the Swift Current Broncos from 1986–1994, leading them to two WHL titles in 1989 and 1993.[3] The team also won the Memorial Cup in 1989, and in the same year James was named Man of the Year by The Hockey News, which has since been revoked by the magazine.[6] He was also coach of the Broncos when four of its players were killed when the team bus overturned on December 30, 1986.[citation needed] In 1994, James became the part owner, head coach and general manager of the expansion Calgary Hitmen, a new WHL franchise.[3] He resigned during the 1996-97 season and was replaced by Dean Clark.

Sexual abuse[edit]

In 1996, Sheldon Kennedy and another unnamed player came forward with complaints about sexual abuse they had suffered between 1984 and 1995,[6] and in November 22, 1996, Calgary Police Service charged James with sexual assault.[3][7] On January 2, 1997, James pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault involving more than 350 encounters with two underage players over a span of 10 years, and was sentenced to three and a half years in jail. He was paroled in 2001.[3][6] The players referred to whomever James targeted as "Graham's new favourite." James was charismatic and consistently successful as a coach. Even during his investigation, he was able to secure character references from respected hockey people and former players. He claimed that his relationship with Sheldon Kennedy was consensual and it was not illegal or immoral.[8] James noted that he was attracted to males, primarily between the ages of 15 and 25, but kept these feelings closeted.[9]

In 1999, a civil lawsuit against James, the Canadian Hockey Association, the Western Hockey League and other hockey organizations was filed by an unnamed victim of James and his parents. It was settled out of court in 2003.[3]

James was given a lifetime ban from coaching by the Canadian Hockey Association.[6] When the CHA learned that James was coaching in Spain, it complained to European ice hockey officials, and he was fired.[6][10] His subsequent whereabouts were unclear, though there were some rumours that he was living in Montreal.[6] In May 2010, he was located by a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation investigative reporter, living in Guadalajara, Mexico.[6]

In a memoir entitled Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury Story retired NHL player Theo Fleury alleged that from the age of 14 James had molested him for years during his time on the Moose Jaw Warrior team.[6][11] On January 6, 2010, Fleury filed a criminal complaint with the City of Winnipeg police.[5][6] "I have been reflecting on this a long time," said Fleury. "I wanted to make the biggest impact on preventing this kind of thing from happening in the future."[5] James pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting Fleury's cousin Todd Holt and Fleury, saying he had assaulted both of his former players hundreds of times over the course of many years while they were teenagers. A third victim, Greg Gilhooly also filed a complaint with the police. James refused to plead guilty to the charges relating to Gilhooly's assault and, consequently, the Gilhooly charges were stayed.[12] James has been sentenced to two years imprisonment for these crimes.[13]


On April 4, 2010, it was revealed in the media that James had been issued a pardon by the Canadian National Parole Board in 2007. News of the pardon came to light only when an unidentified Winnipeg man brought an allegation of abuse against him.[14] The situation surrounding the pardon provoked outrage, and has led to proposed changes to the Canadian pardon system.[6]

On October 25, 2010, James was taken into custody at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. He was wanted in Winnipeg on nine counts of sexual assault,[15] and was released on bail in December of that same year.[16]

New charges[edit]

On December 7, 2011, James pleaded guilty to sexual assaults involving two of his former players, former NHL star Theoren Fleury and Todd Holt, a cousin of Fleury's.

On March 20, 2012 he was sentenced to 2 years in prison,[17] submitting DNA sample to national sex offender registry, and lifetime ban on "volunteering in a position of trust to children".[18] The new charges arose from Theoren Fleury's autobiography in which he describes the abuse.[19]

Crown Appeal[edit]

On February 15, 2013; the Manitoba Court of Appeal revised James' sentence from two years to five years, after the Crown successfully argued Judge Catherine Carlson erred in sentencing principles on March 20, 2012, by putting too much weight into James' previous sentence of 3 1/2 years served in 1997.[20]


  1. ^ Kay, Jason. "Graham James not The Hockey News 1989 Man of the Year". The Hockey News. Retrieved 4 June 2014.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Timeline: Graham James". Calgary Herald. October 10, 2009. Archived from the original on April 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-04.
  4. ^ "Search". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. March 16, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c George Johnson (2010-04-05). "Theo Fleury files criminal complaint against former coach". Calgary Herald. Archived from the original on 2010-01-16. Retrieved 2010-04-26.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Graham James found in Mexico". May 13, 2010. Archived from the original on May 14, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-040. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  7. ^ Timeline of Graham James' legal history following decision to grant him full parole
  8. ^ "CTV Edmonton - Another person files claim against former hockey coach". CTV News. April 5, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-04.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Graham James coaching in Spain, CBC News, April 26, 2001, Accessed August 11, 2007.
  11. ^ "Fleury tell-all book chronicles sexual abuse". CBC News. 2009-10-09. Retrieved 2010-04-26.
  12. ^ "Search". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. March 16, 2012.
  13. ^ . Toronto Archived from the original on March 20, 2012. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ CTV: Graham James pardoned
  15. ^ Associated Press (28 October 2010). "Convicted sex offender surrenders". Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  16. ^ Associated Press (13 December 2010). "Coach charged with abuse out on bail". Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  17. ^ "Graham James sentenced to 2 years for sex assaults". 2012-03-20. Archived from the original on 2012-03-21. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  18. ^ "Sex offender Graham James gets 2 years in prison". CBC News. 2012-03-20. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  19. ^ Herald News (7 December 2011). "Graham James pleads guilty to hockey player sex assaults". Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  20. ^ "Sex offender Graham James's sentence extended to 5 years". 20123-02-15. Archived from the original on February 16, 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-15. Check date values in: |date= (help)