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Theo Fleury strongly rejects claim he ‘enabled’ Graham James

When he pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault last week, disgraced hockey coach Graham James admitted he molested former Calgary Flames star Theo Fleury between 1983 and 1985.

It was Fleury's complaint to Winnipeg police in Jan. 2010 that eventually led to James returning to Canada from Mexico and telling the court that he sexually abused Fleury and another unnamed accuser while he was their youth hockey coach. This followed a 1997 conviction for sexual assault on three former players, for which James served three years in prison before he was granted a pardon.

After James's plea last week, Fleury again blasted the justice system for pardoning the former coach and predicted he'd go free again eventually. "Rape is rape and taking away somebody's innocence should be life imprisonment," said Fleury.

Strong words by the former NHL star were met with strong criticism from Pat Hickey, veteran columnist for the Montreal Gazette. He believes Fleury's silence on Graham's abuse — while other victims like former Boston Bruins player Sheldon Kennedy stepped forward — makes him a hypocrite for going after politicians for their inaction. Said Hickey:

"I find it hypocritical that Fleury can blast the justice system for giving James two months of freedom when he provided his former coach with years."

He also believes that Fleury's business dealings with James following that abuse made him an "enabler."

Fleury responded on Monday by calling Hickey a "new hero" for pedophiles and asked for him to be fired.

Hickey believes Fleury didn't pursue charges against James earlier because "he had more to lose" back in the late 1990s, when Fleury was still a star player in the NHL. "If Fleury had come forward, there may have been more outrage and James may have received a harsher sentence," wrote Hickey. "If Fleury has come forward, it might have made life easier for Kennedy."

But where Hickey makes his most controversial point is in examining the business partnership between Fleury and James well after the coach's history of abuse:

Nobody should question Fleury's decision to remain silent. What should be questioned is Fleury's continuing role in James's life. At the time of Kennedy's revelations, James was the coach of the Calgary Hitmen. He was one of the co-owners of the junior team in the Western Hockey League. One of the other owners was Theoren Fleury. Here was someone who had suffered abuse at the hands of Graham James. Here was someone who knew that James had abused other players. Here was someone who was exposing other children to the same sexual predator.

Fleury has been through enough counselling to know there's a word for someone who acts in this fashion — enabler.

This isn't the first time Hickey's attacked Fleury over his inaction and business dealings with James. From the Gazette in Oct. 2009:

Theoren Fleury is getting lots of credit, lots of sympathy and, presumably, lots of money for baring his soul with his sordid tale of sexual abuse at the hands of his former coach Graham James.

But Fleury would have commanded a lot more respect if he stepped forward in 1996 when former teammate Sheldon Kennedy was the first player to blow the whistle on James's predatory behaviour.  If he had come forward then, Fleury might not have seen his career dissolve in a haze of alcohol, drugs and other destructive behaviour.  Fleury also has to answer for placing other youngsters in harm's way.

In 1994, he became a part-owner of the Calgary Hitmen and brought James into the operation as a co-owner, coach and general manager. James continued in that role for two years before Kennedy and another anonymous former player came forward.

Why did Fleury's Hitmen hire James? He spoke about it with the Toronto Star in Oct. 2009, upon publication of his book "Playing With Fire":

"It's kind of like the Stockholm Syndrome," Fleury said. "It's weird how after all that happened, you can still feel some sense of loyalty towards somebody, but that's the hold that he had on me. It's not that way today. ... But I hope by explaining and coming forward, we can help a whole bunch of people who are afraid to come out with their own stuff, because it can be done."

On Monday night, Fleury used his website to fire back at Hickey, calling for his dismissal from the Gazette:

We find it very distressing to hear anyone, much less a columnist for a major newspaper, take the side of a known convicted rapist by calling Theo Fleury an enabler. Trash talk and garbage columnists focus on the abuser and not on the abused. Pat Hickey is more interested in attempting to pit the abused against one another, than in demanding justice. This column makes all other pedophiles rub their hands in glee-they have found a new hero in Pat Hickey. Would you please write to the editor of the Montreal Gazette and demand that Pat Hicke (sic) be fired immediately.

It's completely appropriate for Hickey to ask about the business relationship between Fleury and James after the abuse Fleury suffered through years earlier. It's also appropriate to ask about Fleury's silence on James' illegal behavior as others came forward to accuse him.

What's entirely inappropriate: To do so without even once acknowledging the psychological damage caused by molestation and sexual abuse, and how that scarring can lead to "hypocritical" behavior like staying on the sidelines as others speak out.

From blogger Julie Veilleux, who bravely revealed her own sexual abuse history earlier this year, a response to Hickey:

Do you honestly believe that a person having endured an attack on a person's basic rights, particularly their rights to physical and psychological integrity and to personal security can just overcome years of manipulation and damage or even worse, that they might be to blame for their devastating fate (or others') just like that, without tremendous support and counseling? The control that abusers have over their victims is incredibly difficult to overcome. It takes years of therapy to have the courage and strength to break the cycle and eliminate the power the abuser has over his or her victim.

Hickey's mind is made up about Fleury. He sees him as an opportunist and an ineffective spokesperson against abuse.

Unfortunately, those criticisms seem to have superseded the fact that Fleury should be considered, above all else, as a victim; and with that comes an infinite amount of leeway for how and when he's willing to face those horrific evils on his terms.

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