TORONTO - An Ontario man who threw a banana at a black hockey player during a game-deciding shootout was only trying to keep his favourite team in the game and had no idea his actions could be construed as racist, his lawyer said Thursday.
Faisal Joseph said Chris Moorhouse is "mortified" and overcome with remorse for his role in the incident, which sparked an international furor, drew condemnation from the National Hockey League and led to an apology from the mayor of his home town of London.
Joseph said Moorhouse, 26, was caught up in the drama of an overtime shootout when he lobbed the banana at Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds on Sept. 22. Simmonds had just forced the game into overtime with a third-period goal and was approaching Detroit goalie Jordan Pearce during a tie-breaking shoot-out. Detroit went on to win the pre-season game 4-3.
Joseph said Moorhouse has freely confessed to throwing the fruit, which he bought at London's John Labatt Centre where the game was played. He had no idea that hurling bananas at black athletes could be seen as hateful or racially motivated, said Joseph in a telephone interview from London, Ont.
"He was horrified when he saw the implications a day later as to how it had come out, and he said to me, 'if I had an apple or an orange, I would have thrown that out onto the ice. I did not realize the significance.'"
Moorhouse's sole intention was to prevent Simmonds from scoring against his favourite hockey team, Joseph said.
Moorhouse was officially charged Wednesday with engaging in a prohibited activity, an offence under the provincial Trespass to Property Act rather than the Criminal Code. If convicted, he faces a maximum fine of $2,000. Joseph said he will make his first court appearance on Nov. 14.
London police chief Brad Duncan said the incident did not meet the criteria for a hate crime or even a mischief charge.
``You have to demonstrate and be motivated by hatred,'' he told a news conference Wednesday. ``Although the banana did hit the ice it did not interfere with the play so it didn't meet the mischief threshold.''
Joseph said audience members watching the game near Moorhouse reported that he didn't utter any racial epithets or show any hateful attitudes during the exhibition match.
Joseph said the vitriol that poured in in the days after the banana-throwing incident has made Moorhouse fearful for his own safety. Moorhouse has received indirect threats, Joseph said, declining to comment further.
Duncan cautioned against vigilante justice while announcing news of Moorhouse's charge.
"I ask that the public let the court process unfold," he said. "I've heard the term vigilantism. We certainly don't want that.
Simmonds himself has downplayed the banana-throwing incident, calling it unfortunate, but the NHL was quick to weigh in the morning after the game.
Commissioner Gary Bettman the incident did not reflect the attitudes of most NHL fans.
"The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario."
Much of Moorhouse's remorse stems from the impact he has had on his home town, Joseph said, adding he fears he has left a cloud over the city and promoted an inaccurate image of a racist community.
Mayor Joe Fontana issued a formal apology and defended London as a diverse and welcoming city.
Joseph said he hopes people will be more tolerant of Moorhouse once his motives are better understood.
"This is a young guy who's guilty, if anything, of an act of stupidity,"he said.