Federal Driving Offences (13:X)
A. Dangerous Operation
Under the Criminal Code, it is an offence to operate a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public having regard to the nature, condition, and use of a highway or other public place as well as the amount of traffic that at the time is, or might reasonably be expected to be, at that place (Criminal Code s 249(1)(a)).
In the absence of death or bodily harm, an offender under s 249(1)(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for up to five years or is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction (s 249(2)).
If the dangerous driving results in bodily harm, an indictable offence has been committed and the driver may be liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years (s 249(3)). If the dangerous driving results in death, an indictable offence has been committed and the driver may be liable to imprisonment for up to 14 years (s 249(4)).
Dangerous driving (s 249) is included in the offences created under Criminal Code ss 220 (causing death by criminal negligence), 221 (causing bodily harm by criminal negligence), and 236 (manslaughter). If there is not enough evidence to prove one of the three offences above, it is still possible to convict under s 249 (Criminal Code s 662.5).
B. Driving While Disqualified
Section 259(4) of the Criminal Code states that a person who operates a motor vehicle while disqualified under the Criminal Code or a provincial statute is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
C. Criminal Negligence
This section is not specifically aimed at motor vehicle operators, but is applicable in some circumstances. Under the Criminal Code, criminal negligence involves acts or omissions showing “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons” (s 219). In Canada, the law surrounding the mens rea requirements for criminal negligence was clarified in R v Creighton, , SCJ No 91. The standard is to be measured by a modified objective test: whether the accused’s conduct constituted a marked departure from that of the reasonable person given all the circumstances. Characteristics personal to the accused will not be considered with the exception of accused’s incapacity to appreciate the nature of the risks associated with his or her actions.
In R v Beatty, 2008 SCC 5,  SCJ No 5, the Court addressed the issue of criminal negligence in the context of dangerous driving. Unlike Creighton, there is no substantive dissent, though five of the newer Supreme Court justices took a slightly different approach to the modified objective test. They noted that the actual (subjective) state of mind of the accused at the time of the accident is relevant in determining if there was a marked departure from the standard of the reasonable person. In Beatty, a momentary lapse of attention with no other evidence of dangerous driving was held not sufficient to warrant criminal sanction under s 249 (criminal negligence causing death).
If the negligence results in death, an indictable offence has been committed and the driver may be liable to life imprisonment (s 220). If the negligence results in bodily injury, an indictable offence has been committed and the driver may be liable to imprisonment for 10 years (s 221).
D. Limitation Period
Section 786(2) of the Criminal Code states that, with respect to summary offences, “[n]o proceedings shall be instituted more than six months after the time when the subject-matter of the proceedings arose”. In contrast, there is no limitation period for indictable offences.
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