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.

In Ontario, summertime is “trauma season”

Winter’s in Ontario are rough, but provincial medical workers know that summer is peak time for serious injuries. A May report from CBC News London confirmed what every catastrophic injury lawyer in Ontario knows: pleasant weather leads to an uptick in personal injury inquiries.

“We consider trauma season from May to September when more people are out on bicycles and in cars enjoying the weather,” Amy Makish, a trauma nurse practitioner at the London Health Science Centre, told the CBC. “We have a trauma registry that goes across Canada and we see what other centres are dealing with and the trends are the same.”

During the winter, motorists are keenly aware of the dangers they face and often drive more defensively. Inclement weather also tends to keep pedestrians indoors and cyclists off the roads. But when summer rolls around, Ontario’s streets and waterways spring to life, leading to a spike in injuries caused by motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, boating accidents, and car accidents.

“During trauma season, we get a lot of brain injuries, rib fractures, long bone fractures and it usually involves injuries to more than one part of the body,” Makish said.

So, how can summertime injuries be avoided? Doctors generally offer the same message as any catastrophic injury lawyer: take simple, common sense steps to protect yourself from grievous harm.

For car drivers, that means avoiding distraction and impairment; adhering to the rules of the road, especially the speed limit; and always wearing a seatbelt. The same goes for motorcyclists, who should also wear as much protective gear as possible.

As recent events in Toronto make clear, cyclists are at particular risk of injury during the summer months. Safety experts advise taking advantage of separated cycling infrastructure; ensuring bicycles are equipped with lights, bells, and reflectors; and always – always – wearing a helmet.

Similarly, boaters should never leave land without a life jacket and avoid boating while impaired at all costs.

Summertime in Ontario is all too short, so it’s natural that Ontarians are eager to get outside and enjoy the sun. By taking common sense precautions, you can ensure that your summer is as safe as it is fun.

If you or a member of your family has suffered a serious injury, contact Will Davidson LLP’s Oakville office today to arrange a consultation with an experienced catastrophic injury lawyer. Our team can help you understand your legal options, suggest proactive next steps, and guide you on your road to recovery.

 

Image credit: Josh Evnin/Wikimedia Commons

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.

Drowning fatalities on the rise in Ontario

In early July, media across Ontario reported the tragic story of Jeremiah Perry, a 15-year-old student at North York’s C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute who drowned during a class trip to Algonquin Park. Jeremiah was swimming with classmates in Big Trout Lake when he disappeared; his body was recovered the following day.

Unfortunately, Jeremiah’s story is not unique in Ontario: he is one of more than 50 drowning related fatalities that have occurred in the province this year, according to statistics from the Lifesaving Society. Six fewer drownings were reported at the same time last year, prompting concern from safety advocates and personal injury lawyers.

“A drowning can happen in seconds, and it’s silent,” warned Lifesaving Society public education director Barbara Byers in an interview with the CBC. “Someone screaming for help as they slip beneath the water is ‘very Hollywood’ … The transition from someone happily swimming and enjoying the water to drowning is so subtle.

Byers says that the majority of drowning deaths in Ontario happen when people go swimming and that they are often the result of a lack of self-awareness on the swimmer’s part. Inexperienced swimmers should be careful not to test their boundaries, particularly in open water, and to avoid swimming solo at all costs. They should also avoid panicking if they get into trouble.

“Panicking takes a lot of energy,” she explained, “If you’re nervous about where you are, just calm down and the best thing to do is float on you back. As long as you get your airway out of the water, just float on your back, calm down, get recharged and then start swimming back to safety.”

Alcohol impairment is another dangerous risk factor, as personal injury lawyers understand from their work with car accident victims. Individuals’ ability to make quick decisions and use good judgment are affected while under the influence of alcohol, and weak swimmers may be tempted to push their limits.

Alcohol consumption while boating has also contributed to Ontario’s unusually high number of drowning fatalities in 2017, as has neglecting to wear a life jacket, a practice that approximately 80 per cent of drowning fatalities have in common.

On July 9, Hamilton police officers rescued four boaters from Hamilton Harbour after their boat took on water. Each of the rescued individuals wore a life jacket, a decision that was lauded by police and personal injury lawyers.

Whether you are boating or going for a swim at the beach, it’s important to understand that Ontario’s bodies of water are unpredictable and that most people are unprepared for traumatic events in the water. By taking small precautions like avoiding alcohol and swimming in pairs, you can significantly reduce your chance of being injured.

If you or someone you know has suffered an injury as a result of a swimming or boating accident, feel free to contact the personal injury lawyers at Will Davidson LLP today. Our team has experience in all areas of personal injury law and would be pleased to advise you on your path forward.

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