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 all of the circumstances (Criminal Code s 320.13 (1)). The consequences differ depending on whether or not the dangerous driving caused bodily harm or death.
Dangerous operation that does not cause bodily harm or death is a hybrid offence (s 320.13 (1)). The driver can be sentenced on summary conviction or indictment. If convicted on indictment, the maximum sentence is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years (s 320.19 (5)).
Dangerous operation causing bodily harm (s 320.13 (2)) is also a hybrid offence. On indictment, the individual is liable to imprisonment for a term not more than 14 years (s 320.2 (a)) The minimum punishment is (s 320.2 (b)): *(i) for a first offence, a fine of $1,000, *(ii) for a second offence, imprisonment for a term of 30 days, *(iii) for each subsequent offence, imprisonment for a term of 120 days. On summary conviction, the individual is liable to a fine of not more than $5,000 or to a term of imprisonment no longer than 2 years less a day, or both. The minimum punishments for convictions on indictment also apply to summary convictions.
Dangerous operation causing death (s 320.13 (3)) is an indictable offence. The maximum penalty is imprisonment for life (s 320.21). The minimum sentences for convictions of Dangerous operation causing bodily harm also apply to Dangerous operation causing death.
Dangerous operation (s 320.13) 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 of dangerous operation s 320.13 (1) (Criminal Code s 662(5)).
B. Operation While Prohibited
Operation while prohibited is a Criminal Code offence under s 320.18.
The Criminal Code s 320.18(1) states that anyone who operates a conveyance while prohibited from doing so by an order under the Act or another legal restriction imposed by any other Act of Parliament is guilty of an offence. An exception to this is if the driver is registered in an alcohol ignition interlock device program and they are abiding by the conditions of that program (s 320.18). This is a hybrid offence, so the Crown can choose to proceed summarily or by indictment depending on the severity of the alleged violation and other factors.
The possible punishments if found guilty of dangerous operation under s 320.18 are: a) if convicted on indictment, a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years b) on summary conviction, a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years less a day.
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 their 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.
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on August 21, 2020.|
|© Copyright 2020, The Greater Vancouver Law Students' Legal Advice Society.|