Supreme Court of Canada Clarifies Law of Dangerous Driving


The Supreme Court of Canada released reasons for judgement this morning clarifying the required elements of the Criminal Code offence of Dangerous Driving.
In today’s case (R v. Roy) the Defendant was driving a motor-home carrying a passenger. Visibility was limited due to fog and the road they were on was relatively steep, snow?covered, and slippery. He pulled out from a stop sign to turn onto a highway.  As he did so he pulled into the path of an on-coming tractor-trailer resulting in a serious collision killing his passenger.  He was convicted of Dangerous Driving Causing Death at the trial level.  The BC Court of Appeal upheld his conviction.  The Supreme Court of Canada overturned the conviction and in doing so provided the following exchange highlighting that something beyond mere negligence is required to cross the threshold into criminality:
[30] A fundamental point in Beatty is that dangerous driving is a serious criminal offence.  It is, therefore, critically important to ensure that the fault requirement for dangerous driving has been established.  Failing to do so unduly extends the reach of the criminal law and wrongly brands as criminals those who are not morally blameworthy.  The distinction between a mere departure, which may support civil liability, and themarked departure required for criminal fault is a matter of degree.  The trier of fact must identify how and in what way the departure from the standard goes markedly beyond mere carelessness.

[31] From at least the 1940s, the Court has distinguished between, on the one hand, simple negligence that is required to establish civil liability or guilt of provincial careless driving offences and, on the other hand, the significantly greater fault required for the criminal offence of dangerous driving (American Automobile Ins. Co. v. Dickson, [1943] S.C.R. 143).  This distinction took on added importance for constitutional purposes.  It became the basis for differentiating, for division of powers purposes, between the permissible scope of provincial and federal legislative competence as well as meeting the minimum fault requirements for crimes under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (O’Grady v. Sparling, [1960] S.C.R. 804; Mann v. The Queen, [1966] S.C.R. 238; Hundal).  Thus, the “marked departure” standard underlines the seriousness of the criminal offence of dangerous driving, separates federal criminal law from provincial regulatory law and ensures that there is an appropriate fault requirement for Charter purposes.

[32] Beatty consolidated and clarified this line of jurisprudence.  The Court was unanimous with respect to the importance of insisting on a significant fault element in order to distinguish between negligence for the purposes of imposing civil liability and that necessary for the imposition of criminal punishment…

[37] Simple carelessness, to which even the most prudent drivers may occasionally succumb, is generally not criminal.  As noted earlier, Charron J., for the majority in Beatty, put it this way: “If every departure from the civil norm is to be criminalized, regardless of the degree, we risk casting the net too widely and branding as criminals persons who are in reality not morally blameworthy” (para. 34).  The Chief Justice expressed a similar view: “Even good drivers are occasionally subject to momentary lapses of attention.  These may, depending on the circumstances, give rise to civil liability, or to a conviction for careless driving.  But they generally will not rise to the level of a marked departure required for a conviction for dangerous driving” (para. 71).

bc injury law, Dangerous Driving, R v. Roy, section 249 criminal code

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ERIK
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When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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