MONTREAL – The dashing on-ice flair of one of Canada’s most celebrated hockey legends was replaced by a stony-faced stoicism Friday as a judge found Guy Lafleur guilty of giving contradictory evidence at his son’s bail hearing in 2007.
Lafleur, known to fans as the Blond Demon and the Flower during an illustrious career that saw him lead the Canadiens to five Stanley Cups, will be sentenced June 18.
“He’s very sad,” said his lawyer, Jean-Pierre Rancourt. “He was hoping for an acquittal but we will cope with this.
“He had no choice but to stay stoic. As a hockey player, he’s used to handling stress.”
While Crown prosecutor Lori-Renee Weitzman is seeking house arrest, Rancourt argued his client has suffered enough and ought to be slapped with just a fine.
From the warrant that was issued for his arrest right up to Quebec court Judge Claude Parent’s verdict, the case has received widespread media attention and caused him great humiliation, he said.
A criminal record will simply exacerbate his suffering by making it difficult for him to travel to the United States, a place he visits frequently for work.
“We’re at the bottom of the ladder and the sentence should reflect the bottom of the ladder,” he told the judge.
“A fine would be sufficient to address all the criteria of sentencing.”
But Weitzman figured she was being lenient in seeking a “short sharp” prison term to be served in the community.
“We’re not talking about the upper range of a two-year sentence in any way but a serious enough sentence to reflect the seriousness of the crime because, without a doubt, it is a serious crime in this context,” she said.
The maximum penalty for giving contradictory evidence before a court is 14 years in prison.
Weitzman denied suggestions she was seeking to make an example of Lafleur because of his stature.
While she agreed public figures may be subject to more scrutiny and, therefore, additional suffering compared to someone else who is charged with the same crime, she said the law doesn’t change.
“I think for every public figure there is going to be a part of the notoriety that comes back to face you and that goes along with every public figure, whether it’s a politician, a movie star or a famous hockey player,” she said.
“When it comes to the justice system, we’re all in the same position and the jurisprudence applies to everybody.”
A spokesman for the Canadiens said the conviction won’t affect Lafleur’s role as an ambassador for the National Hockey League team.
Lafleur found himself in legal trouble after he testified during his son Mark’s bail hearing in September 2007.
He repeated over and over that his son always respected his court-ordered curfew and never consumed drugs and alcohol on his watch.
At the time, the hockey star had agreed to supervise his son and ensure he abided by court orders.
But during a subsequent hearing just a month later, court heard the elder Lafleur drove his son to a hotel for an intimate encounter with a 16-year-old girlfriend on two occasions.
Lafleur said his son told him his curfew did not extend to any particular location which is why he allowed the trysts.
Last month he testified the hotel visits had slipped his mind during the September 2007 court proceedings and that he didn’t think the unsupervised visit was important.
He insisted his son abided by the curfew and other rules while at the hotel.
A warrant for Lafleur’s arrest was issued in early 2008. It triggered a media frenzy that left the icon, who played 17 NHL seasons with the Habs, the New York Rangers and the Quebec Nordiques, humiliated.
Parent agreed with Lafleur’s lawyers that authorities violated his rights when they issued the warrant, but noted it wasn’t reason enough to throw out the charges.
Lafleur has since launched a $3.5-million civil suit against the Montreal police and Crown over the warrant.
Meanwhile, the younger Lafleur pleaded guilty in February to a slew of charges including uttering death threats, forcible confinement and assault and was issued a 15-month conditional sentence.
As for the elder Lafleur, Rancourt said he’d have to review the written judgement before deciding whether there are grounds for appeal.