MONTREAL – Quebec’s highest court has acquitted hockey legend Guy Lafleur, saying there was reasonable doubt he ever intended to mislead anyone when he testified at his son’s bail hearing.
Lafleur was convicted in May 2009 of giving conflicting testimony. A month later, he was handed a suspended sentence and a $100 fine and ordered to donate $10,000 to a youth rehab centre.
But the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday the trial judge erred when he decided Lafleur knew his son Mark was supposed to remain at his parents’ home when he was away from the rehabilitation centre where he resided.
The appeals court justices found nothing in the record indicating Mark Lafleur was under such conditions or that his father knew about them.
“This in the view of the Court of Appeal was a fundamental mistake that tainted the whole reasoning of the trial judge,” said Louis Belleau, Lafleur’s lawyer.
“The Court of Appeal said that if you remove this mistake and you look at Mr. Lafleur’s testimony, then it’s logical and supported by the evidence.”
Mark Lafleur, who is now in his mid-20s, pleaded guilty in February 2009 to several charges including uttering death threats, forcible confinement and assault. He was given a 15-month conditional sentence.
Justice Francois Doyon, who wrote Tuesday’s decision on behalf of the three-judge panel, was categoric.
“The prosecution has presented its evidence and it did not meet its burden” of proof, he wrote. “The appellant is acquitted.”
Belleau said his client was thrilled when he received news of the acquittal Tuesday morning.
“He’s a man of few words but I could tell that he was extremely pleased with the judgment,” Belleau said.
“He was interested to know whether all three judges were in agreement and indeed they were.”
Belleau said the judges’ unanimity suggests an appeal by the Crown to the Supreme Court is unlikely.
“This is likely to mean that it’s the end of the road for the proceedings in Mr. Lafleur’s case.”
Lafleur, a Hockey Hall of Famer who led the Montreal Canadiens to five Stanley Cups, has filed a $3.5-million civil lawsuit against the Montreal police and the Crown over the arrest warrant used to detain him in early 2008.
The arrest triggered a media frenzy which Lafleur maintains was humiliating.
Belleau said Lafleur can now get back to his restaurant and his work with charities and the Canadiens.
“I’m sure it’s an extreme relief for him. It’s been a very trying experience. He’s walked away from the conviction with the sense that this was a very bitter experience for him.
“But now I hope that this judgment of the Court of Appeal will rehabilitate the judicial system in his eyes and I think it goes a long way to doing that.”
Lafleur’s problems began after he told his son’s bail hearing in September 2007 that Mark Lafleur always respected his court-ordered curfew and never consumed drugs or alcohol while under his supervision.
But at another hearing a month later, court was told the elder Lafleur twice drove his son to a hotel for an intimate encounter with his 16-year-old girlfriend. Lafleur had not mentioned that.
Lafleur insisted his son told him his conditions had been modified and the curfew didn’t extend to any particular location, just that the hour be respected.
Guy Lafleur said during his own trial the matter had slipped his mind and insisted his son had respected the curfew.
On appeal, Lafleur’s lawyers argued the trial judge committed an error by not taking into consideration that their client thought the curfew applied to the hours, not the location.
The appeals court agreed and said that “undue weight” had been given to the fact Lafleur had not told the 2007 hearing his son had spent a couple of nights at a hotel with his girlfriend.
“I am of the opinion that the evidence does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of the infraction,” Doyon wrote. “My conclusion is the samewith respect to intent.”