For the first time in years, Michael McTague said he slept soundly.
“Even with what’s going on in the world right now, it’s still a joyous time for us survivors,” said McTague.
He is one of dozens of men, who as young boys were sexually abused by former minor hockey coach Gordon Stuckless. The man at the centre of the Maple Leaf Gardens sex abuse scandal died Thursday after a brain hemorrhage earlier in the week.
“Mr. Stuckless left a trail of devastation in his wake — of that, there can be no doubt. I saw that firsthand in my representation of him over the last decade,” noted lawyer Ari Goldkind in a statement to Global News.
“Over 20 years ago, upon his release from jail, he made a vow to never repeat the monstrous acts he committed that ruined so many innocent young lives. Rather than those being empty words, as they often are for so many, Mr. Stuckless made sure he never committed another crime.”
Stuckless was recently released from prison under certain conditions, including living in a halfway house in Hamilton.
He first pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexually assaulting 24 boys while he worked as an equipment manager at Maple Leaf Gardens. He was sentenced to six years on appeal, less credit for time served.
In 2013, Stuckless faced 100 new charges after more victims came forward to authorities.
Three years later, he was convicted of sexually assaulting 18 boys and sentenced to 6.5 years in prison, less six months, for time served under house arrest.
Last summer, the Court of Appeal for Ontario found that the 2016 sentence was too lenient and increased his sentence of 10 years in jail, less six months for time served under house arrest.
The first to speak out was Martin Kruze in the late 1990s.
“Gordon Stuckless received two and a half years less a day and it was two days after that that Martin jumped off the Bloor viaduct bridge and was that a statement from Martin? I think so,” said Teresa Kruze, Martin’s sister-in-law.
“We have been trying, in Martin’s vision and his honour, to affect some change within our legal system.”
Her husband, Gary Kruze, was filled with emotion upon learning his younger brother’s abuser had died.
“It brings us a little bit of comfort knowing our world is a safer place,” he said.
For 23 years, the Kruzes said they have been fighting for tougher penalties for child sex offenders.
In the wake of Stuckless’ death, and in Martin’s name, the couple will continue that crusade.
“We want to see the laws changed, we want to see tougher sentencing, we want to be able to give the tools that the judges and the crown prosecutors need in order to send a message to society that violent sexual crimes against children are not allowed,” said Kruze.
It’s been 50 years since McTague, now 62, was sexually abused by the former Gardens usher, but he said it has caused him a lifetime of pain.
“It hurt me and it built anger in me and I would go around and hurt people and I ended up in prisons and jails over it,” McTague said.
“I know there’s pandemic going on, I know that people can’t come outside … but when I got the call last night, it was like an awakening. My whole body just kind of opened up.
“The monster is gone.”
The abuse McTague experienced as a child has left permanent scars, he said, adding he is finally feeling free.
“Now that he’s gone it’s like I feel great… freedom,” McTague said.