Skip to main content

Dan Maloney of the Detroit Red Wings tries to pick a fight with an unconscious Brian Glennie of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Glennie was hospitalized with a concussion. Maloney was charged with assault causing bodily harm for which he was acquitted on June 30, 1976.John Maiola/The Globe and Mail

Canada needs to end its cultural tolerance for assault in hockey games, and a good place to start would be in Woodstock, Ont. A 16-year-old boy was punched viciously in the head nine or 10 times while down on the ice, by an opposing player standing over him, in an incident videotaped by his parents and now viewed by a national audience on news broadcasts.

The police have had the videotape since January, shortly after the incident occurred, but haven't decided yet whether to lay charges. Why so slow? Woodstock police chief Rod Freeman said such acts fall into a "grey area," because "society condones a certain level of violence" in hockey. This is a revealing moment when an ugly attack may be excused because some people find it culturally acceptable.

An attempt to annihilate another person's consciousness is not part of hockey. If administrators, parents and coaches think it is, then it is time for the justice system to demonstrate that they are wrong. The cultural excuse – it's just hockey, and hockey is Canada – is no more acceptable than when anyone else claims cultural practices as an excuse for violating Canadian law.

The reason it's so important to take a stand against this cultural blind spot is the potential for life-changing damage to an assault victim's brain. In the case at hand, the 16-year-old, Nick Major, suffered a concussion and broken nose. It could have been much worse. And why did the other player take it on himself to assault him? Because Nick sprayed the goalie with ice. Yes, pummelling the brain is sometimes deemed a just punishment for sprayed ice, in the code of supposed hockey honour. And this was in single A hockey, a low level played for fun, and which does not lead to the professional ranks. Does this culture make sense?

All these codes will disappear and someday be regarded as the flotsam of a blinkered past – as soon as the law stands up to them.

Perhaps some foreign township will one day do as tiny Hérouxville, Que., did a few years back when it issued a resolution barring the stoning of women. "No beating people senseless on the ice." Everyone will know who the intended target is. Canadians.