Man sues Graham James, Manitoba school division for $6M over alleged sexual abuse when he was 10

WARNING: This article contains details of child sexual abuse.

A former student of disgraced hockey coach Graham James alleges he was sexually abused when he was 10 and James was working as a substitute teacher in Winnipeg in the 1980s, and he’s suing James and the school division that employed him for more than $6 million.

James is a convicted sex offender who has spent several years in prison for sexually assaulting multiple young players he coached in the 1980s and 1990s. He was granted day parole in 2016. 

A statement of claim says the abuse began in May 1983 when the man was just 10 years old and a student at Strathmillan School, which is part of the St. James-Assiniboia School Division in Winnipeg. 

It says James took a particular interest in the boy, singling him out to stay after school.

James also directed him to sit at the back of the classroom, where James would place his hands on the boy’s thighs while “pretending to lean over to look at his schoolwork,” unseen by children at the front of the class, the lawsuit says. 

The abuse escalated when James kept the boy after class one day and put his hands up the boy’s shorts and molested him, the statement of claim says.

A female teacher saw what was happening, entered the classroom and told James she was going to report him, the lawsuit says.

Not long after, the boy was called into the principal’s office, where he was questioned about the incident while James was present. 

“He was humiliated and afraid, he kept his head down and did not speak,” the lawsuit says. 

The abuse continued into the summer, the statement of claim says, after James learned where the boy lived by asking his sister when he saw the siblings playing at a playground.

In June 1983, James went to the boy’s home. The boy said he awoke to find James encouraging his sister to touch him, and that James later forced sexual acts on the boy, the statement of claim says.

“The plaintiff states that he was terrified, humiliated, confused and felt the need to escape.” 

Ongoing distress

The man is seeking $5 million for loss of earning capacity, $1 million for aggravated and punitive damages, $100,000 for future care costs and $50,000 in special damages.

The lawsuit says he requires therapy and medical attention as a result of the abuse, which has caused self-destructive and suicidal behaviour, severe insomnia, depression and inter-family dysfunction, particularly with his sister, among various other issues. 

It says James’s conduct was intentional, malicious and done with knowledge it would humiliate the boy and cause him physical, emotional and mental injury. 

The St. James-Assiniboia School Division had a legal duty to prevent the abuse, and was negligent in its hiring and supervision of James, the claim says.

The allegations have not been proven in court and no statements of defence have been filed yet. 

A spokesperson for St. James-Assiniboia said the school division can’t comment on legal matters at this time. 

CBC News also attempted to reach James, who is now living in a transitional facility in Montreal, according to court documents, but did not receive a response Wednesday. 

‘Nobody should be surprised’

Greg Gilhooly has spoken publicly about the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of James when he was 14 years old and James was a substitute teacher. 

Gilhooly says James used his position as a substitute teacher within the St. James-Assiniboia School Division, where Gilhooly was a student, to groom him and ultimately sexually abused him on school property. 

Though James pleaded guilty to the abuse of several other former teen players, charges in Gilhooly’s case were stayed.

Last year, he asked the school division for $125,000 in compensation to cover therapy and medications he’s needed following his abuse. 

James was more than a hockey coach, and school officials need to be held accountable for what happened, said Gilhooly.

“The Graham James story is very much a story about how the school system let people down as well.”

A man with a beard speaks to a reporter off camera.
Greg Gilhooly has spoken publicly about the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of James when he was 14 years old and James was a substitute teacher. (CBC)

The latest allegations are disappointing but not surprising, said Gilhooly.

“Nobody should be surprised that there are other people out there that Graham abused,” he said.

“We will never know everyone who was abused by Graham.”

For anyone who has been sexually assaulted, there is support available through crisis lines and local support services via this government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

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