SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. – Former NHL hockey player Sheldon Kennedy, who was sexually abused by his junior hockey coach while playing in Swift Current, says he accepts an apology from the Saskatchewan city.
Kennedy said it needed to happen, but he’s already been long-focused on healing.
“I wasn’t sitting around waiting for an apology from the city of Swift Current,” Kennedy said Monday in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.
“The way I look at it is that … Swift Current is in a position to show great leadership on how a community can take such a negative tragedy and turn it into something positive, and be leaders in our country around child protection.”
Kennedy revealed 20 years ago that he was abused by Graham James, his coach with the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos. James would serve 3 1/2 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to sex offences against Kennedy and two others.
Kennedy said he doesn’t hold a grudge against the city. He says he tweeted “APOLOGY ACCEPTED” to let Swift Current residents know that he supports them.
“I’m with them in the journey, because you know what, the people of Swift Current don’t want to see kids being abused.”
Swift Current Mayor Jerrod Schafer expressed his “sincere and absolute sorrow to the victims of Mr. James and their families.”
Schafer wrote in a statement that sons were sent to Swift Current to chase their dreams and “too many players left with a lifetime of nightmares.”
The city plans to launch a new initiative on Friday for community organizations. It will require a criminal background check of adults working with children, along with education on how to prevent bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.
Schafer said he hopes community organizations that offer youth programming will adopt the new benchmark for their staff or volunteers.
“It’s simple – if you don’t want to be youth-certified, either you have something to hide or you aren’t willing to invest in yourself to do a better job of dealing with kids. Parents should demand such certification from anyone volunteering or working for profit with our kids,” Schafer wrote in the piece which appeared in the Globe and Mail.
Kennedy, who is now an advocate for child victims, plans to attend the announcement.
He said groups such as Hockey Canada already have similar training, but there are gaps around rules for things such as private coaches and daycares.
“What we’re trying to do is fill the gap of organizations that fall under the city’s umbrella and, to us, that was a place where there was really no checks and balances, so … the city making it a priority is critical,” said Kennedy.