Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hockey Fight Turns Criminal

It's been some time since I've been able to find the time to write on this site, so I make a renewed commitment to make this Calgary Criminal Lawyers' Weekly. Perhaps all it took was the allure of a good hockey brawl to bring me back...


Calgary Police have confirmed that they are proceeding with assault charges against at least one player after an on-ice altercation spilled over and erupted as two Junior "B" teams were leaving the ice.

Now, it is important to note that we are not talking about a Marty McSorley or Todd Burtuzzi type incident here...the player who has been charged with assualt was not dressed for the game and was in fact sitting in the stands as a spectator. When a linesman came off the ice to break-up the brawl by the bleachers, the accused allegedly attacked him and apparently knocked him out with a kick to the head.

If the matter goes to trial, the fact that the incident was the aftermath of a hockey game will just be interesting narrative, but should not be legally relevant since the player was effectively a regular civilian for this particular game. One would assume that no spectator could ever try to use a defence of "consent of the sport" when they attack a game official...especially where the alleged assault is a kick to the head (except in European soccer perhaps?)

The incident does raise the debate again though, of when a mere sporting battle between consenting adults crosses the line into criminal conduct.

Speaking as a former captain of a now defunct central Alberta team of the Heritage Junior "B" (or Jungle "B" as we affectionately called it) League, I can say that in my day, there was quite a bit of otherwise criminal conduct that happened on the ice on a regular basis.

Threats of bodily harm or death were regular, fights resulting in far more than "trivial" or "transient" bodily harm happened every week. Assaults with weapons, to wit, sticks, helmets, pucks, water bottles etc. were far too commonplace. But we kept showing up and taking to the ice knowing full well what we were submitting ourselves to.

So, as times change and our increasingly litigous society brings these issues to the forefront more often, one is left to wonder...where do we draw the line? and how do we ensure fairness so that a player who goes to the Jungle (or to any other league for that matter) on the weekend will know what he can 1) Do and get away with; 2) Do, but get a penalty if caught; or 3) Do and find himself entering an election and plea?

I'm not saying that criminal conduct should be condoned all in the name of our patriotic national sport...but I know I've been in brawls that I hasten to say would have made this incident look meek and it seems that the absence of media attention was the difference between police on the scene simply reinstating peace and order as opposed to laying criminal charges.

So I pose the question generally, when is the consensual violence of adult contact sport more than just fierce competition and subject to criminal prosecution?


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