Why haven’t Vancouver police charged Jesse Boulerice?

Two remarkable facts distinguished Jesse Boulerice’s vicious cross-check to Ryan Kesler’s face last week. First, the blow didn’t injure the Vancouver forward nearly as badly as it could have if Boulerice’s stick hadn’t broken on impact. Second, as of October 15, the Vancouver Police Department has not announced a criminal investigation into the incident, nor has the Crown indicated it will press charges against the 29-year-old Philadelphia Flyers enforcer.

“So what?” some will cry. “The courts should leave the NHL alone! Hockey can police itself! It’s a tough game and unfortunate things happen out there sometimes!”

Well, hang on a moment.

The point is that we’re talking about Vancouver, and here, the police frequently take action when it comes to on-ice mayhem.

GM Place, for whatever bizarre reason, has witnessed a disproportionate number of high-profile violent NHL incidents in the new millennium, the kind that are repeated on sports highlight reels even in places where no one cares about hockey.

So far, three out of the four longest suspensions in NHL history have been levied due to outrageous acts at GM Place, and the previous two resulted in criminal trials. To recap:

October 10, 2007: Jesse Boulerice cross-checks Ryan Kesler in the face and is suspended for 25 games, tying New York Islander forward Chris Simon’s record-length ban for his baseball bat swing at Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers.

March 8, 2004: Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks sucker-punches Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche from behind, ending Moore’s career with a concussion and fractured neck vertebrae. Bertuzzi is suspended for a total of 20 games (13 regular season, seven playoff). Bertuzzi is charged with assault in June, enters a guilty plea in December, and receives a conditional discharge and one year’s probation.

February 21, 2000: Marty McSorley of the Boston Bruins swings his stick at the head of Donald Brashear of the Vancouver Canucks, giving Brashear a concussion. McSorley is suspended for the remainder of the 1999-2000 season, a total of 23 games. McSorley is charged with assault with a weapon in March, pleads not guilty in September, and is found guilty and sentenced to 18 months probation in October.

In light of that recent history, why haven’t the Vancouver police and the Crown gotten involved in the Boulerice case?

Three possible explanations:

1) They chose, in this instance, not to act because they prioritized the consequences rather than the act itself. In other words, Kesler’s jaw wasn’t broken, and he came back and played in Vancouver’s next game, so why make a court case out of it?

2) For some reason, the Crown didn’t feel it was likely to win this case. That seems odd when you compare it to the McSorley and Bertuzzi cases. There was said to be an element of premeditation in both those assaults, and likewise, video evidence shows Boulerice clashing and scuffling with Kesler in the sequence leading up to the cross-check. Also, there was arguably less ambiguity about Boulerice’s intent, as it was a direct hit to the face, whereas McSorley argued he was simply trying to hit Brashear’s shoulder to antagonize him and start a fight, and Bertuzzi, most would agree, likely didn’t anticipate he would damage Moore’s neck as he did (rather than just causing pain to his opponent).

3) The Crown didn’t want to increase Vancouver’s reputation as the city where every nasty NHL incident turns into a court case.

In my opinion, charges could very easily and justifiably have been laid here. If you deliberately try to run a guy over with your car and happen to just give him a glancing blow on the hip, you’re not going to get off scot-free from a criminal standpoint, not if there are witnesses.

On top of that, Boulerice has previously faced criminal charges for a stick assault. His April 17, 1998 swing at the face of Andrew Long left the Guelph Storm forward with severe facial injuries and a blood spot on his brain. Boulerice, then with the Plymouth Whalers, was suspended for one season by the Ontario Hockey League. Michigan police originally charged him with felony assault, but he wound up pleading no contest to the lesser charge of aggravated assault instead, serving 90 days probation.

Both of Boulerice’s attacks went beyond the reasonable level of violence to which a player consents when he enters a hockey rink. Almost universally, NHLers have acknowledged there was no excuse for the cross-check on Kesler.

You cannot completely separate the rink from the “real world.” To provide an over-the-top example, Player #1 wouldn’t be exempt from court proceedings and only subject to hockey justice if he persuaded two teammates to pin down Player #2 and then proceeded to decapitate Player #2 with his skate blade.

So overall, it’s hard to pin down why Boulerice will apparently face no further direct consequences beyond games missed and the loss of $65,302 in salary, especially when McSorley and Bertuzzi did go to trial in this city.

Another interesting question: if the NHL had given Boulerice a ludicrously short suspension (i.e. two games), would the Crown then have laid charges to make up for the apparent miscarriage of justice?

“[Boulerice] decided to do something that resulted in a bad action but not a terribly bad result and he was lucky,” NHL justice minister Colin Campbell told reporters after announcing his verdict on October 12. “If it was a worse result, maybe there would be more than me looking into it today and that wouldn’t be good for any of us.”

Astute observation, Mr. Campbell.

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