Sheldon Kennedy centre officially opens its doors

CALGARY – An agency offering support to young sex abuse victims and named after a former NHL player who himself was molested as a teenager was busy even before it officially opened its doors Thursday.

The Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, named for the hockey player who brought to light sex crimes by one-time junior coach Graham James, began seeing children a couple of months ago and 200 kids have already visited the facility, Kennedy said.

The centre brings together police, social workers, doctors, nurses, psychologists and prosecutors in an effort to avoid making child victims constantly relive of abuse.

“I think it’s already successful when we don’t traumatize a kid four to seven times in an interview process,” Kennedy said. “They do one interview and they’re done, so right there that’s a win. What we need to start doing is turning these kids lives around and giving them an opportunity early.

“When we don’t deal with it early, then a lot of times they end up going down the wrong road.”

The centre was named after Kennedy by Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a visit to Calgary earlier this year.

Kennedy was one of the first to come forward to say he had been sexually abused by his junior coach and mentor James. Kennedy’s revelations led to an eventual conviction in the 1990s against James, who last year was jailed again for abusing other players, including retired NHL star Theo Fleury.

Kennedy said he usually spends about four days a week at the centre but leaves the actual counselling to the professionals.

“If I see children at the centre, as I have the past two months, I love to sit down and chat with them and their parents and just talk to them. That’s what I can bring to the table.”

Alberta Human Services Minister Dave Hancock called the new centre the beginning of something special.

“All those who work here will be witnesses to much sadness and pain, but it will also be a place where the healing of children and their family members and guardians can begin,” said Hancock.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced that Ottawa will provide $350,000 to help young victims and their families.

“Child abuse in all its forms is an appalling crime that has a lifelong impact on its victims,” he said.

Calgary’s mayor praised Kennedy for his efforts in bringing the centre to fruition and for coming forward to talk about his own experiences.

“I’m proud of Sheldon Kennedy,” said Naheed Nenshi.

“I don’t use the word hero very often, but I think everything you’ve done Sheldon — your courage, your bravery, your willingness to stand up for the most vulnerable — makes you a true hero in my eyes.”

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