criminal negligence

Police Officer Sentenced to 12 Months in Jail for Death of Woman in Custody

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A new decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, and for the first time in Canada, a police officer has been convicted and sentenced for failing to provide medical assistance to an individual in their custody.

In November 2019, London Police Constable Nicholas Doering (“Doering”) was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life in the death of Debralee Chrisjohn (“Chrisjohn”).

THE FACTS

On September 7, 2016, Chrisjohn, while in police custody, died of a heart attack as a result of having consumed a toxic level of methamphetamine.

A video of Chrisjohn being taken into the Ontario Provincial Police detachment showed her to be limp, silent and demonstrating no signs of movement.  She was witnessed to being dragged into a cell.  At that point, EMS was called, however, by the time they arrived they were unable to save her life.

Chrisjohn was in the custody of Constable Doering, who had arrested her for an outstanding OPP warrant, and transferred Chrisjohn to OPP custody. 

At his trial, Constable Doering testified that he did not believe that Chrisjohn required medical attention and was simply suffering from the effects of methamphetamine.  According to the defence, Constable Doering made an error in judgement that was reasonable based upon his experience with methamphetamine users and his conversation with an EMS supervisor early on in her detention.  Doering denied that he deliberately misled OPP officers.

The following facts were admitted by Constable Doering at his trial:

  • Chrisjohn was unable to provide herself with the necessaries of life while in the custody of Constable Doering;
  • Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug and users often experience confused cognitive function, paranoia, elevated sensory stimulation and agitation and restlessness;
  • Medical treatment is available for those who have ingested methamphetamine, which typically includes monitoring and treating the user’s symptoms in a hospital until the effects have dissipated;
  • Medical treatment is not always warranted for those who experience side-effects from using methamphetamines;
  • If treatment or intervention is required, the sooner treatment is received the better;
  • On September 7, 2016, Chrisjohn required medical treatment due to the effects of using methamphetamines at the time of her transfer to the OPP;
  • Chrisjohn was in a critical state and required urgent medical intervention from the time of her arrival at the Elgin OPP detachment and onwards;
  • The delay in providing Chrisjohn with medical treatment impacted her chance of survival.  If she had received medical attention prior to the arrival of EMS at the Elgin OPP detachment, she may have survived.

THE ALLEGATIONS AND CRIMINAL OFFENCES

At trial, Crown prosecutors alleged that Constable Doering knowingly provided false and incomplete information regarding Chrisjohn’s medical condition to the OPP when he transferred custody and told OPP that she had been medically cleared.  Thus, demonstrating a wanton and reckless disregard for her life and providing the elements of criminal negligence causing death.  Furthermore, it was alleged that Constable Doering’s behaviour was a marked and substantial departure from the standard of care of a reasonable and prudent police officer.

Section 215 of the Criminal Code outlines the offence of failing to provide the necessaries of life.  According to the law, where a person is in charge of another, he/she has a duty to provide the necessaries of life.  The standard is not of perfection. The Crown prosecutor must prove that there was a marked departure from that of a reasonably prudent person having charge of another, in circumstances where it is reasonably foreseeable that a failure to provide the necessaries of life would lead to a risk of danger to the life of the victim.

Section 219 of the Criminal Code outlines the offence of criminal negligence.  This offence requires proof that the accused did something or failed to do something that was his/her legal duty to do that demonstrates a wanton and reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others.  The offence also requires that the accused’s conduct was a marked and substantial departure from the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would observe in the circumstances.

Justice Pomerance, in her reasons for judgement, stated:

The evidence in this case suggests that stereotypes and generalized assumptions played a role in the events leading to Ms. Chrisjohn’s death.  …

In short, Cst. Doering had pre-conceived notions about drug users and he held fast to those notions when dealing with Ms. Chrisjohn.  Rather than moulding his theory to fit the facts, he seems to have moulded the facts to fit his theory. …

I am satisfied that a reasonably prudent police officer would have appreciated the need for medical assistance at the time of the transfer to the OPP, if not before, and would have been aware of the risk that failure to obtain such medical assistance would endanger Ms. Chrisjohn’s life. 

Justice Pomerance found that Constable Doering failed to provide Chrisjohn with the necessaries of life and in providing erroneous and incomplete information about Chrisjohn’s medical condition to OPP demonstrated a wanton and reckless disregard for her life, thus contributing to Chrisjohn’s death.  He was therefore found guilty of criminal negligence causing death.

Justice Renee Pomerance sentenced Constable Doering to 12 months in jail.  In her sentencing decision, she stated:

The sentence must convey the irrefutable message that Ms. Chrisjohn’s life was valued and valuable. … [I]n some cases, loss of life will, practically and symbolically, command the most significant form of penalty. This is one of those cases.

Constable Doering has been suspended from his duties with the London Police with pay and is currently appealing the decision. 

We will continue to follow this criminal case as it makes its way through the appeal process and will report any developments in this blog.

If you are facing a drug related charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Man Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison for Impaired Operation of Canoe

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last summer, David Sillars (“Sillars”), became the first Canadian to be convicted of impaired driving charges while paddling a canoe.  He was recently sentenced to six years in prison for the April 2017 death of an eight-year-old boy.

We have previously blogged about a landmark ruling by an Ontario judge who decided that a canoe is a “vessel” for the purposes of the definition of vessel found in the Criminal Code of Canada, which includes the criminal charges of impaired operation of a vessel causing death, operation of a vessel over 80, and the dangerous operation of a vessel.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On April 7, 2017, Sillars took his girlfriend’s son, Thomas Rancourt (“Rancourt”), for a canoe ride down the Muskoka River to teach him how to paddle a canoe.  Sillars was intending to paddle in the direction of and to retrieve a blue barrel, which appeared to be wedged against a barrier by debris.  The canoe capsized and Rancourt was swept downriver and went over a waterfall at High Falls, and then drowned.  Sillars, on the other hand, swam safely to the shore.

In his lengthy decision, Justice Peter C. West set out the following key findings of fact based upon the evidence presented in court:

  • Temperatures were between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius on April 7, 2017;
  • School buses were cancelled due to slush and ice, resulting in poor road conditions on April 7, 2017;
  • The majority of the ice on the river had melted, although small chunks were visible, resulting in a reasonable inference that the river water was extremely cold;
  • The water levels of the river were very high on April 7, 2017;
  • The current in the river was fast-flowing and extremely strong;
  • The yellow barrier is a warning to caution boaters of the danger created by the water flowing towards the High Falls;
  • Sillars was cautioned by two experienced individuals who warned him of the dangerous water conditions;
  • Sillars did not agree to take or wear an adult sized lifejacket;
  • The PDF worn by Rancourt was too small for him, especially given that he was wearing three layers of clothing beneath it, including his winter jacket;
  • Sillars had consumed alcohol and THC prior to operating the canoe on April 7, 2017;
  • Sillars intention was to paddle to the yellow barrier to retrieve a blue barrel, which was clearly wedged in debris and partially submerged; and
  • Rancourt looked up to Sillars as a father figure, and this relationship created a duty of care for Sillars towards Rancourt.

Based upon the evidence, the court ruled that:

David Sillars’ decision to canoe towards the yellow warning barrier, during the spring run-off with the described dangers and risks…, with the sole purpose to retrieve a blue barrel, partially submerged and wedged against the yellow warning barrier by other debris, was a significant contributing cause of Thomas Rancourt’s death.  …[B]ut for the decision of Mr. Sillars to go to the yellow barrier, Thomas Rancourt would not have fallen out of the canoe and wound not have gone over the waterfalls and drowned. 

With respect to the issue of impaired paddling, the court considered whether Sillars’ drinking impaired his ability to operate a canoe (Sillars’ minimum blood-alcohol content was 128 milligrams of alcohol in 100 mililitres of blood and he had 14 nanograms of THC in his blood).  The court concluded that Sillars’ intellectual abilities, specifically his reaction time, decision making abilities and his ability to respond to an emergency situation, were impaired by his consumption of alcohol.

The fact that Sillars ignored warnings by two individuals as to the potential danger of canoeing in the conditions on the river, refused to wear an adult lifejacket and failed to bring the required safety equipment in the canoe demonstrated to the court that he overestimated his canoeing abilities and underestimated the level of risk he was enduring, which further demonstrated how the alcohol and marijuana impaired his decision making abilities.

THE SENTENCING

Justice West found Sillars guilty of all four charges he was facing and was sentenced in October, 2019.  The Crown asked the court for a jail sentence of six to eight years and an order prohibiting Sillars from operating a vessel for 20 years.  Sillars’ defence team asked the court for a two-year jail term.

Justice West described numerous aggravating factors that he considered when deciding on the terms of Sillars’ sentence.  The fact that Sillars was in a position of trust and authority in relation to Rancourt was one such factors, as well as his previous criminal record. 

In his reasons, Justice West commented on how this is a “unique” case as there are no precedent cases of criminal negligence causing death or impaired operation causing death in the case of a capsized canoe.  However, Justice West used precedent cases of those who have been found guilty of operating a motor vehicle while impaired and sentenced Sillars to six years in prison, an order requiring that samples of bodily substances be taken for the purposes of forensic DNA analysis  and an order prohibiting Sillars from operating a vessel for 10 years.

Justice West stated:

In my view general deterrence and denunciation are particularly important in cases where alcohol or drugs have impacted an offender’s ability, as in this case, to operate a vessel and the factor that a motor vehicle was not … involved makes no difference.

Sillars has already filed an appeal and has been released on $1,500 bail pending his appeal.  He must remain at home under house arrest and abstain from drinking alcohol. 

We will continue to follow any developments that may arise in this case and will report any updates in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact Affleck Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Trust our experienced criminal lawyers to handle your defence with diligence, strategy and expertise.

Truck Driver Faces Criminal Negligence Charges After Four Fatalities in Hwy 400 Crash

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Three generations of women from one family, as well as a college student nearing graduation were killed in a violent twelve vehicle pile-up on Highway 400 this past June. Three of the twelve vehicles involved were transport trucks.  A 35-year-old truck driver from Winnipeg, Manitoba has since been charged with four counts of criminal negligence causing death, as well as one count of negligence causing bodily harm. These are serious charges with significant consequences.

What is Criminal Negligence?

Criminal negligence is a broadly defined offence under the Criminal Code, but is most commonly applied to driving incidents.

An individual is criminally negligent who in doing or omitting to do anything that is his/her duty to do by law shows “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons”. Examples of criminally negligent behaviour causing death or bodily harm include street racing, and impaired driving (“operating while impaired” is also a separate offence under the Code).

What are the Potential Consequences of Criminal Negligence Charges?

Anyone convicted of criminal negligence will have a criminal record, and will also lose their Ontario driver’s license for at least one year. Most people found guilty of criminal negligence while operating a motor vehicle receive a jail sentence, whether their actions result in bodily harm or whether they result in death. Sentences will vary depending on the severity of the injury. For criminal negligence causing bodily harm sentences can be up to 10-14 years in prison. For criminal negligence offences causing death sentencing can include a minimum of 3 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

An Example of a Serious Sentence for Criminal Negligence

No details have been provided about the June 2016 crash on Hwy 400, and it is unclear what the truck driver may have been doing to contribute to or cause the incident. It may, however, be instructive to discuss another instance of criminal negligence causing death to get an idea of potential consequences he may face.

Nicholas Piovesan made headlines in 2010 after the death of three Sudbury, Ontario teens in a drunk driving incident. Piovesan, who was driving home from a bar while intoxicated, ran into the teens on the side of the road, after which he continued to drive until he ran into a building further down the road. He was convicted of three counts of criminal negligence causing death and sentenced to seven years in prison. He also faced a 10 year driving ban upon his release. To date, this is one of the harshest sentences ever given in Canada for criminal negligence causing death. In handing down the sentence, Justice Nadeau stated that Piovesan had showed a “high level of disregard for public safety”.

Piovesan was released in May 2015, and is serving the remainder of his sentence in the community. The Parole Board imposed a number of conditions upon his release. Piovesan must now abstain from alcohol and must refrain from entering any establishment where alcohol is the primary source of revenue (this includes bars, taverns, as well as beer and liquor stores). The 10 year driving ban began on the day of his release.

While it is unclear whether alcohol was a factor in the June 2016 Hwy 400 crash, the above illustrates the serious consequences that may come with charges of criminal negligence.

If you have been charged with a driving offence, call Affleck Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trust our experienced lawyers to handle your defence with diligence, strategy, and expertise.