PICTOU, N.S. — A Nova Scotia judge has offered a meditation on the nature of grief and the dangers of overdrinking, as he convicted a man for biting off part of a fellow mourner's nose in a drunken brawl at a wake.
Judge Del Atwood found Randall Edwin MacLean guilty of aggravated assault, but made it clear many people behaved badly at the wake at a house in downtown Pictou, N.S.
"A wake is meant to be a time for sober and solemn reflection of a life well lived. A celebratory air is often fitting on such occasions,'' Atwood mused as he contemplated the events of Oct. 11, 2014.
"Celebration may be accompanied by libation; when enjoyed in moderation, it may enhance the experience; but in immoderation, things can fall apart pretty quickly. Fall apart things did — and in a rather intense fashion.''
"Fall apart things did — and in a rather intense fashion.''
The wake was for Howard Miller, about whom very little is revealed in Atwood's ruling, which was rendered Tuesday. MacLean, an old friend of Miller's, arrived at his wake drunk, but he wasn't the only one.
"As will happen sometimes when a group of people have had too much to drink, someone got annoyed at someone else, that little annoyance got inflated grossly out of proportion, a brawl ensued, and a Mr. Paul Gaudet got bitten on the nose — quite badly, as a matter of fact,'' said Atwood.
The judge said "almost everyone present was inebriated, moderately and skyrocketing upward,'' and he noted the one sober exception was the youngest person there. "It is the elders who are supposed to be role models for youth; in this case, it was the inverse.''
MacLean asked Gaudet's sister, Mary Jane Malloy, to "get me a drink,'' which caused Gaudet, who had put his head drunkenly on the kitchen table, to rouse himself in objection.
'Alcohol-thickened fog' to blame: judge
Witnesses differed on exactly what followed — Atwood blamed "the alcohol-thickened fog of this war'' — but tensions apparently grew after Miller's son, Jerry, asked MacLean to stop rolling a joint.
Soon enough, several men tried to eject MacLean from the house. During a struggle, MacLean clamped his teeth on Gaudet's nose, severing the tip.
"It was just hanging there,'' Malloy said, as quoted in Atwood's ruling.
MacLean, who was described as a big, barrel-chested man, admitted biting the slender Gaudet's nose, but he claimed it was to protect himself as he was being forcibly ejected.
"[The nose] was just hanging there."
MacLean's lawyer argued he bit Gaudet's nose "to keep himself upright'' while he was being punched by several people.
Atwood didn't buy that theory.
"Apart from acrobats such as the iron-jaw trapeze artist memorialized in the well known painting by Degas, nobody keeps his balance with his teeth. People will use their arms, hands and legs, or will otherwise contort themselves when they need to maintain balance. People do not bite into other people to maintain posture,'' he said.
MacLean told his trial he couldn't figure out why Gaudet was so angry, and he resented being asked to leave. Atwood acknowledged MacLean's behaviour did not warrant being "manhandled'' as he was.
"Had he just gone with the flow and let himself get led roughly out the door, he might well have had a valid complaint of excessive-force assault,'' said Atwood. "Unfortunately, Mr. MacLean went against the flow.''
The judge added: "There were plenty enough poor decisions made by many that evening and morning, and had Mr. MacLean gotten treated a little more gently, none of the bloodletting might have happened; nevertheless, I find that the prosecution has proven each element of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt.''
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