Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rough road ahead for 'Big Buff'

Jets defenceman Byfuglien arrested on suspicion of boating while impaired, refusing sample

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Dustin Byfuglien's route to his new NHL home has hit potentially rough waters with his arrest in Minneapolis on suspicion of boating while impaired and refusing a sample.

Byfuglien, 26, of the Winnipeg Jets spent three hours in custody before his release early Thursday morning. Charges have not yet been laid.

A spokesperson with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office said the local district attorney, Steve Tallen, wouldn't make a formal decision on the matter until next Tuesday at the earliest.

The Jets had little to say Thursday about the incident.

"We're aware of the reports. We're still gathering information at this time," Jets director of communications Scott Brown said Thursday.

Byfuglien, who lives in Minnesota and is an American citizen, is not currently under any type of bail restriction. But his ability to cross the border and move about Winnipeg could be severely impacted in the future.

Lucy Perillo, who operates Canada Border Crossing Services in Winnipeg -- a company that works with offenders on both sides of the border to assist in travel -- said it's possible Byfuglien could be refused entry into Canada based simply on pending criminal charges such as third-degree boating while intoxicated and the refusal of a blood or urine test. He would also be obligated to disclose the fact he'd been arrested and fingerprinted.

"He's technically not inadmissible into Canada, because he hasn't been found guilty of anything. But they do have the right to refuse. Typically, though, Canadian officials at the Emerson border are very fair, as are those at the Winnipeg airport," Perillo told the Free Press.

Perillo said Byfuglien's life would become much more complicated if he was ultimately convicted. In Minnesota, he could face up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and a year-long driving suspension. He would then have to apply in writing to the Canadian government for a temporary resident permit to enter the country. If granted, the order would expire after one year.

Byfuglien would have to apply for five consecutive years before he could try to obtain a lifetime pass, said Perillo.

"There's never a guarantee he'd get it. He'd have to prove why he wouldn't be a threat to reoffend and what reason he has to be in Canada, that's fairly important. Obviously he makes a living and there's an economic benefit to being here," she said.

Her agency has plenty of experience seeking temporary resident permits for athletes and entertainers. Most recently, her clients have included a pro wrestler, a baseball player and a member of Pearl Jam's entourage.

If convicted, Byfuglien would face a much tougher time getting around Winnipeg. Local defence lawyer Josh Weinstein told the Free Press Manitoba upholds any driver's licence suspensions imposed in the U.S.

"I don't see how they would grant the licence. They would say we're not allowing you to apply for one until the suspension has run its course," said Weinstein. He said a person actually makes their situation worse by refusing a breath, blood or urine sample, as Byfuglien is alleged to have done.

Police can still charge you with impaired driving without an actual reading, based strictly on observations, but the refuse conviction is a virtual slam-dunk. In Manitoba, a conviction for refusing a sample is an automatic two-year licence suspension, while impaired driving is just one year.

"You're better off to blow," said Weinstein. "We as lawyers can never tell someone not to blow, that would be telling them to commit a criminal offence."

Byfuglien could also face potential sanctions from the NHL. If he is charged, doctors from the NHL Players' Association and the league would conduct an automatic assessment to determine whether he would be placed into the NHLPA's Substance Abuse and Behaviour Health Program. The same would apply to any player who is charged with an offence.

Byfuglien's agent, Ben Hankinson of Octagon Hockey in Minneapolis, told the Free Press via email he would not comment.

Byfuglien was arrested at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday by a Hennepin County Sheriff's Office deputy and booked into the Hennepin County jail just after 11 p.m. The arrest took place on Lower Lake South on Lake Minnetonka in Excelsior and Byfuglien was released from jail at 2:23 a.m. Thursday.

Byfuglien has a residence in Spring Park and the area is popular among local celebrities who have settled there. He is an all-star who led all NHL defencemen last year in goals and helped guide the Chicago Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup before being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in late June 2010.

A side note for Jets fans: When he was booked, Byfuglien was weighed and he came in at 286 pounds. He played at approximately 245 pounds last year.

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 2, 2011 0

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