POLITICS

New charges against man at centre of Maple Leaf Gardens sex abuse scandal

08/08/2013 12:37 EDT | Updated 10/08/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - A man at the centre of a decades-old Toronto sex abuse scandal is now facing nearly 100 charges, and his lawyer says he could spend the rest of his life in prison if a court decides he is a dangerous offender.

Gordon Stuckless — a former usher at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens — was originally convicted in 1997 for sex assaults on 24 boys while he worked at the famed hockey arena between 1969 and 1988.

The 64-year-old was forced back into the spotlight earlier this year when police announced fresh charges against him related to alleged offences that took place decades ago.

The number of those charges has been mounting as new complainants come forward, with Stuckless now facing a total of 98 charges, a Toronto court heard Thursday.

A preliminary hearing in the case is set to being in April next year and is expected to run for five weeks.

Stuckless' lawyer noted that the charges so far have all related to alleged offences that took place many years ago.

Ari Goldkind took issue Thursday with the way he thought the Crown was proceeding with its case against Stuckless.

"You have an unusual situation where you have the Crown prosecuting somebody for crimes in the 70s, 60,s and 80s as if that person has committed those crimes today, or within the last ten years," he said.

"Yet you have a person who's been a law-abiding member of society for 10 years and that's highly unusual."

Goldkind said he'd been told by the Crown that a dangerous offender status would be sought for Stuckless if he is convicted of any of the latest offences.

"This approach is to say he's a menace to society now and a danger," he said. "That's very different from saying he should be punished for what he did decades ago."

A spokesman from Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General would not comment on the matter saying the Crown would make its position known in court on the record at the appropriate time.

The 'dangerous offender' designation applies to violent and sexual offenders who pose a high risk of reoffending. A judge has the option of sentencing a dangerous offender to a indeterminate sentence — meaning they can remain in jail indefinitely.

Seventeen individuals — ten in Toronto and seven in York Region, north of the city — have come forward this year with complaints against Stuckless for alleged offences between 1965 and 1984.

Police have said the allegations relate to a period when Stuckless was in contact with boys at schools and through minor sports in Toronto and communities north of Toronto.

The complainants were between nine and 14 years of age at the time of the alleged offences.

Neither Stuckless nor any of the complainants were in court on Thursday.

Goldkind said, however, that Stuckless, who has been living under house arrest, is leading a "very, very quiet life."

"He's been living extremely peacefully in the apartment he's had for years, with the same family and friends around him, he's been following his bail to the letter."

A man named Martin Kruze first brought the Maple Leaf Gardens sex abuse scandal to light with allegations that he was the victim of a pedophile ring working inside the hockey shrine, former home to the Toronto Maple Leafs before they left for a new arena in 1999.

Kruze testified at Stuckless's trial that he was among the dozens of young hockey fans lured into the Gardens with free tickets, hockey sticks and player autographs, only to be sexually abused.

Stuckless was originally sentenced to two years less a day. Despondent over the original sentence, Kruze committed suicide a few days later.

Stuckless' sentence was later increased to five years and he was out on parole in 2001 after serving two-thirds of it.

Stuckless now faces 37 charges of indecent assault on a male, 48 charges of gross indecency, eight charges of sexual assault, three charges of buggery, one charge of assault, and one charge of possession of a weapon or imitation weapon.

He has not yet entered a plea on any of those charges.