Police recommend assault charges in lacrosse head stomping incident

October 20, 2011

criminal law

The Canary reported in June 2011 that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were investigating an incident in which 15 year old Blake Rose was felled by two cross-checks (which if properly administered are permissible) but then had his head stomped on in the waning minutes of a lacrosse game between the Kamloops Rattlers and Kelowna Kodiaks. The RCMP has just recommended to the Crown that a charge of simple assault be laid (click here for Kamloops Daily News article).

At the time of the incident, RCMP spokesman Staff Sgt. Grant Learned correctly noted that the investigation will hinge on whether ‘the nature of that contact [the cross-check and stomp] was so outside the boundaries of acceptable contact that the nature of misconduct was egregious and bordering into that realm of criminality?’

The courts in BC are not unique in their inconsistent approach to adjudicating sports violence. At its core, the courts struggle with how to accommodate the role of violence in sport and the extent to which participants consent to injurious force which is prohibited by the rules but may be permitted within the culture of the game. For example, in the rugby case of R v. TNB (BCPC 0117) in 2009, Honourable Judge S.D. Frame ruled that players consent to violent contact within and certain violent conduct outwith the rules of the game. Cognizant of the playing culture of the game, Frame J. stated that the ‘amalgam of rules includes the legitimate strategy of intimidation of the opposite team by head-butting, eye gouging, elbowing, raking and punching’ and noted that ‘none of these infractions is permitted by the written rules but it is accepted by the unwritten code of conduct at this level of play in the game of rugby.’ The defendant was found not guilty on the grounds that the punch was randomly thrown and not intended to target and hit the injured plaintiff and, as such, fit within rugby’s unwritten but accepted code of conduct.

With respect to J. Frame’s judgment in R v. TNB, if the lacrosse head stomping allegations are proven true, it is hoped that the court will make a bright line distinction that such conduct is criminal – period – irrespective of any fantasies relating to the ‘unwritten code’ or playing culture of the game, and that the proper means of penalizing such behaviour is not by a referee but through the courts.

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2 Comments on “Police recommend assault charges in lacrosse head stomping incident”

  1. Di Nixon (@DiseeNixon) Says:

    The words of Frame J. are a little alarming: yes, rugby is a contact sport, but there is no room for criminal acts. When did he last watch a game of rugby?
    Force is used during the game but lawfully and only in order to gain an advantage in the game (not to cause an opponent to lose an eye and thereby gain an advantage!!!!). Apart from the odd push or shove off the ball all other acts outside the parameters of acceptable force should be punished, not only by the referee (if he is sighted) and by the relevant authorities, but by prosecutors. This is the policy certainly in the UK and Ireland.
    We have the reputation of the individual sport, whatever it is, to think about: we don’t want society to think that only hooligans play the sport. We certainly don’t want to attract hooligans to the sport so that they can perpetrate gratuitous acts of violence in the name of sport.


  2. Graham Sprason (@GrahamSprason) Says:

    It is worrying to think that we can pass judgement on the “unwritten code of conduct” of the sport. Rugby, like most sports, is a contact sport requiring physicality. This does not mean borderline violence. Take Boxing or Martial Arts where the conduct is in essence violence, but it is controlled skill and agression with officals there to ensure this violence does not get out of hand (low-blows, punches to the neck area etc).
    Like Di Nixon has rightly pointed out, in Rugby force is used to gain an advantage, but this force is legal within the rules of the game and anything more than this involves citation from the match officials.
    We cannot get to a point where we are issuing the wrong type of message to players to play the sport in an unsporting and potentially unlawful way otherwise members and supporting numbers will rapidly decline.


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