Coroner's office opens investigation into death of boxer

New Brunswick's coroner office will investigate the death of Saint-Quentin-born boxer David Whittom.

David Whittom died Friday, 10 months after suffering injuries in a May 2017 bout

David Whittom, a native of Saint-Quentin, N.B., died in Fredericton, 10 months after a boxing match at the Aitken Centre. (David Whittom/Facebook)

New Brunswick's coroner office will investigate the death of Saint-Quentin-born boxer David Whittom.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Public Safety confirmed in an email on Tuesday that the investigation will go ahead.

"Coroners investigate every sudden and unexpected death," wrote department spokesperson Danielle Elliott.

"As such, we are unable to comment further at this time."

Whittom died on Friday, 10 months after he suffered a head injury during a fight at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton and was put into a medically induced coma. The exact cause of his death has not been revealed.

Whittom was fighting for the then-vacant Canada Professional Boxing Council cruiserweight title, which was won by Gary Kopas who continues to hold the championship.

Follows commission investigation

The New Brunswick Combat Sports Commission, the regulatory body for professional combat sports in the province, has already completed its own investigation into the May 2017 bout, which pitted Whittom against Kopas.

That investigation found there was no neglect on anyone's part and all procedures were followed.

CBC News asked for comment from Denis Léger, the executive director of the New Brunswick Combat Sports Commission, but has not received a response.

Alycia Bartlett, spokesperson for the Fredericton police, has confirmed that the force is not currently investigating Whittom's death. 

Matter of consent

July Hughs, a professor at the University of New Brunswick's faculty of law, says while consent can mitigate liability when fighters die because of injuries suffered during a fight, it can't eliminate liability. (CBC)

Jula Hughes, a law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said she couldn't comment directly on why the police force would not open an investigation into this case or on any possible criminal or civil liability resulting from the incident.

Hughes did, however, comment generally on liability stemming from deaths that may have occurred as a result of a boxing match.

Hughes said generally in cases where a boxer dies in the ring it doesn't give rise to criminal liability, and any civil liability is mitigated because the boxers consented to participate in the match.

But, Hughes said, there are limits to consent in these cases.

"Nobody can consent to have serious bodily harm inflicted upon them," she said.

"The limit is an intention to cause serious bodily harm and serious bodily harm actually resulting."

Consent not absolute

Hughes said consent only goes as far as what is "normal" in the sport, but even that has some grey areas.

"The Supreme Court really emphasized that there's a limited social utility to people beating each other up for no good reason," she said.

"So as a result there are some limits to the effectiveness of consent and so somebody who inflicts serious bodily harm on another person runs some risk even though the context of it is in sports."