Impaired Boating Case Shows Dangers of Drinking and Canoeing

Canadians understand that impaired driving is dangerous and unethical, but too few realize that impaired boating can have equally dire consequences. Every summer in Ontario, boating accident lawyers receive dozens of calls about serious injuries from impaired boating accidents. In rare cases, these accidents can even result in deaths.

A recent Ontario criminal case illustrates just how dangerous impaired boating can be, even in man-powered vessels like canoes. The case also established guidelines for criminal impaired boating cases involving those vessels.

In April 2017, the defendant, David Sillars, took his girlfriend’s eight-year-old son, Thomas Rancourt, out on the Muskoka River in a canoe. A breathalyzer taken hours later showed that Sillars had been drinking, and a blood test showed traces of THC. The canoe tipped during the excursion; Sillars struggled to dry ground, but Thomas was swept away by the fast spring current and died. 

Sillars was charged with four offences under Canada’s impaired driving laws. Last month, he was convicted of all four. He is likely to spend between two and 10 years in prison. The case established that impaired driving laws extend not only to power boats but to rowboats, kayaks, dinghies, canoes, and other man-powered watercrafts.

“In the eyes of the law, then, being drunk while paddling an inflatable dinghy is the same as being drunk while driving a pickup truck,” wrote the National Post’s Brian Platt in his report on the case. “Smoking a joint and paddling a canoe is equal to smoking a joint and driving a car.”

Some Canadians, perhaps even some boating accident lawyers, will take issue with impaired driving laws extending to canoes. Drinking and paddling, they might argue, does not pose the same risk to the community as drinking and driving. However, the Sillars case shows that impairment on the water can have devastating, life-altering consequences.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Thomas Rancourt’s grandmother, Donna Posnikoff, following the verdict. “I wish I was going home and celebrating Thomas finishing Grade 4 today. But I’m not. I’m going home, thinking that people cared about Thomas, and his life mattered. It’s just been such a sad, hard two-and-a-half-years,”

“Alcohol and water don’t mix,” added Thomas’s father, Jamie Rancourt, according to the Post. “I’m hoping people are going to smarten up.”

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a boating accident, contact Will Davidson LLP to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced boating accident lawyers can help you understand your legal options and make informed decisions as you pursue compensation.

Safer boating in Ontario starts with two simple steps

 

Residents of southern Ontario are blessed with convenient access to an extensive network of lakes and rivers that are perfectly suited to summertime boating. Unfortunately, as every Ontario boating accident lawyer knows, many of the province’s boaters fail to adhere to basic safety principles, which causes accidents, injuries, and in some cases, deaths.

In late May, CBC News Toronto reported that a 25-year-old North York woman had died in a boating accident on Lake Couchiching, near Orillia. The story broke on the second day of North American Safe Boating Awareness Week and at the onset of boating season in Ontario. The circumstances of the accident appear benign: two women were paddling a canoe just 100 metres from shore. However, neither was wearing a life-jacket, a fatal and all-too-common mistake in this province.

“[Life-jackets] will save your life,” André Mollema of the Ottawa Drowning Prevention Coalition told CBC Ottawa. “If you fall in, even though you’re an experienced swimmer, you never know. You can knock your head on the boat on the way in, and then if you don’t have that life saving device on, you will drown.”

Transport Canada requires every boat to carry a life-jacket or flotation device for each person on board. Failure to do so can result in hundreds of dollars in fines.

An experienced Ontario boating accident lawyer can tell you that intoxication is another prevalent risk factor on Canadian waterways.

“Alcohol is a contributor in nearly 100 per cent of cases of boating fatalities in Manitoba and in 90 per cent of them they were not wearing life jackets,” Kevin Tordliffe of the Livesaving Society’s Manitoba branch told CTV Winnipeg. “These are two easy things that we can address quickly to address those statistics.”

Tordliffe is absolutely correct. Last year, boating deaths in Ontario reached an eight-year high of 31, up from 23 in 2016. CBC Ottawa reports that there have been more than 12,000 water-related deaths in Canada between 1991 and 2014, 82 per cent of which were boys and men. Reducing alcohol consumption and promoting life jacket use could go a long way in reducing those elevated numbers.

If you, a member of your family, or someone you know has been injured in a boating accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to speak with an experienced Ontario boating accident lawyer. Our team can help you assess your legal options and decide whether to launch a personal injury claim.

Request a free consultation

COPYRIGHT 2020 © WILL DAVIDSON LLP