Landmark Criminal Trial Establishes Crime Of Drinking While Canoeing

We wrote a blog a few weeks ago about the importance of practicing proper safety in and around water. A tragic event which reached resolution in the courts this summer highlights the dangers and consequences of not practicing water safety, particularly as it relates to alcohol and boating.

A precedent setting case

The case represented the first time that charges had been brought to someone as they respect to the operation of a canoe where the person operating the canoe was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.

The facts behind the case are as tragic as they come. On April 7, 2017, David Sillars’ girlfriend dropped her son off at a cottage where Sillars was staying. He had a good lived with his girlfriend and was said to have had an excellent relationship with her children and was like a step-father to them. Sillars was also described by his girlfriend as being a “very capable canoer” who had canoed on the Muskoka River dozens of times in the past.

Sillars and this eight-year-old boy went out on the canoe that day. Sillars had been drinking and consuming marijuana that day. The water level was high, and it was fast moving. As they approached a rocky waterfall, Sillars attempted to reach a barrier to stop. The canoe capsized, and while Sillars was able to reach shore, the child was unable to follow. While the child had a lifejacket on, he was at the top range of the weight recommendation for it. He continued to float down the river where he went over the waterfall, later drowning. OPP officers found the boy and attempted to revive him, but were unsuccessful.

It was later discovered that Sillars minimum blood-alcohol content was 128 milligrams of alcohol in 100 mellites of blood, and that he had 14 nanograms of THC in his blood. The legal limit for operating a vessel in land or water is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. Meanwhile, driving with more than two nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood is enough to see someone found guilty of drugged driving.

The court saw Sillars being the first person in Canada to be found guilty of impaired operation of a canoe causing death.

The significance of the decision

The case has a significant impact on people who enjoy the use of small water vessels such as canoes and perhaps don’t fully appreciate the influence that the consumption of alcohol or THC can have on one’s ability to operate the vessel. People using such vessels should be made aware that the same laws surrounding alcohol and THC use in cars apply to the use of canoes.

Contact Derfel Injury Law if you have been involved in a boating accident. We will work tirelessly to achieve the best possible resolution to your boating accident claim. For your convenience, we have office locations in Toronto. Call us at 416.847.3580 to schedule a visit at the individual office closest to you or contact us using the form below.