The reach of the law extends over the boards, onto the ice and into the courtroom


It has been a while since either Kris or I posted a blog on The Canary. It’s amazing how life (meaning work, family, broken bones in my case, and the National Hockey League playoffs – go Habs!) can interfere with our pseudo-journalistic responsibilities. Regardless, in the upcoming days I shall be updating the site with posts from events in the not-so-distant past. 

We’ll leave it to others closer to those scenes than us to comment on the upheavals in the NHL regarding the on-again / off-again sale of the Phoenix Coyotes, collective bargaining agreement convolutions in the NBA and MLB, American Needle Inc. v. NFL et al., the 6 game suspension of Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethisberger by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for violations of their Personal Conduct Policy, etc. 

We’ll instead focus on other events which do not capture the spotlight of the media but nevertheless are important and are deserving of our attention.

Accordingly, forthcoming posts will discuss the finding of negligence against a snowboarder in Canada, the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the British Columbia government’s intention to legislate backcountry snowmobiling, baseball’s shenanigans ranging from the tasering by a police officer of a 17 year old minor who ran onto the field at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game to a million dollar negligence lawsuit in Ontario which alleges that the absence of a sunscreen caused the plaintiff to be hit in the head by a line drive because he was blinded by the sun, and – of course – hockey.

We have not been silent about hockey violence. Recent posts have commented on the unprecedented cancellation of a KHL game because there were not enough players left to ice a team after 691 penalty minutes were assessed (10 January 2010), Quebec Rempart’s goalie Jonathan Roy’s simple assault guilty plea and absolute discharge (8 October 2009), the acquittal of Robin Gomez of the Victoria Salmon Kings of assault causing bodily harm (7 July 2009), and a piece entitled ‘Taking hockey violence seriously’ (7 February 2010) which noted a 17 year old player was charged with aggravated assault and that two major junior players had been indefinitely suspended for ‘headhunting’ opponents.

In that light, one of those suspended players – Patrice Cormier with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – has just been charged with assault causing bodily harm for the blindside hit on Mikael Tam which left him unconscious and convulsing on the ice.  Cormier’s court appearance is scheduled for July 12.

Also, a 13 year old hockey player recently plead guilty to assault with a weapon after hitting another player with his stick during a tournament in Timmins, Ontario. The assault occurred with about a minute left in the game and with the assailant’s team losing 8-0. There was a stoppage in play and the player was in the process of being ejected from the game for hitting an opposing player from behind when he swerved away from the exit gate and towards the victim thereupon striking him across the back of the helmet with a baseball swing motion. The Crown attorney characterized the attack as deliberate and calculated. The youth received probation and community service. 

It’s too early in the game to say if these events indicate a greater willingness by the courts to prosecute on-ice assaults. There is conflicting case history dating back decades on how the courts have treated hockey violence. But connecting the dots from Marty McSorley of the Boston Bruins being found guilty of assault with a weapon (R. v. McSorley 2000 BCPC 117) with Vancouver Canuck power forward Todd Bertuzzi’s guilty plea to assault causing bodily harm (R. v. Bertuzzi, 2004 BCPC 472) to the events listed above does suggest that courts now are not prepared to use implied consent of the victim to unbridled violence and buffoonery as a blanket defence to such attacks.

In so doing, the courts remind us that league control over the game isn’t absolute and that the reach of the law extends over the boards, onto the ice and into the courtroom.

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