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Monday, September 10, 2012

Farmer chasing ATV trespassers acquitted of dangerous driving

From the Judgment of Justice R. Green of the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan:

A farmer was charged with driving in a manner dangerous to the public on Church Road in the Rural Municipality of Fertile Belt, contrary to s. 249(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.  The farmer is now 54 years of age and works for a neighbour. He farmed his own land in the past, but now leases it. On October 3, 2010, in the latter part of the afternoon, he was helping the neighbour fix his combine. He heard some All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) being operated in the distance, on a field he owned. These ATVs were being driven by three young males who were at the time they came to the farmer's attention driving around in mud on his field, which was to the south of Church Road.

The farmer took the neighbours 4x4 truck and drove, in 2-wheel drive on Church Road and then south into his field where the ATVs were.  At that point, the ATVs scattered.  The farmer followed one of the ATVs over Church Road and back north into another of his fields, in which a crop of canola had just been swathed.

A police constable arrived on the scene at 4:36 p.m., and found the ATV wedged under the front driver’s side bumper of the truck.  The farmer was seated in his vehicle. After attending to the young male ATV driver, and viewing the scene, the officer arrested the farmer at 5:08 p.m. for dangerous driving.

The Crown submitted at trial that the farmer chased after the young male on Church Road and rammed his ATV.   The farmer claimed that, as he pulled up beside the young male on Church Road, the young male accelerated his ATV and swerved into the truck and turned in front of it.  He said, as this was happening, he slammed on his brakes and skidded in a straight direction for a number of feet.

Ultimately, the Judge stated, the issue was not whether he is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the collision on Church Road happened as the farmer described, but rather whether it is possible that it did.   Considering: (1) his finding that it is possible the farmer was travelling as slowly as 35 to 40 kilometres per hour on Church Road when he collided with the ATV; (2) the lack of any expert evidence on accident reconstruction of what happened between the two drivers on Church Road; and (3) the reality that the young male was an inexperienced ATV driver who admitted he may have swerved before the truck reached him, the judge concluded that it is possible the collision happened as the farmer described, with the young male swerving into the driver’s side of the truck, the farmer slamming on the brakes and the young male accelerating and turning into the path of the truck. 

With respect to the degree of care exercised by the farmer, the Judge ruled that he was not satisfied that the degree of care exercised by the farmer in driving on Church Road was a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in these circumstances.  Whatever the farmer's liability might be civilly for the collision, the Judge was nevertheless not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that his driving was a marked departure from the standard a reasonable person would have observed in these circumstances.

On this basis, the farmer was acquitted of the dangerous driving charge.

Read the decision at: R v Tranberg.