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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Court of Appeal upholds conviction for dangerous tractor driving

The appellant in this case before the Ontario Court of Appeal was convicted of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle (in this case, a tractor) under the Criminal Code.  The evidence at trial included the following:

the appellant was driving a tractor at 30-35 kilometers per hour along a rutted gravel and dirt road, causing the tractor to bounce along the road;
the appellant was driving in a deliberate manner, and appeared determined to return to his property, heedless of those who were in his path or were attempting to stop him;
without slowing, the appellant drove the tractor through a narrow opening between two trailers, one of which was moving, barely missing both;
the appellant drove toward a police constable, ignored his motions and shouts to stop, and drove within a few of meters of his vehicle before making an evasive manoeuvre to avoid it;
he continued along the road at top speed toward another police constable, who feared for his own safety, to the extent that he nearly drew his own service revolver, before the appellant abruptly veered away at the last minute to avoid striking him;
he drove up onto the narrow berm, adjacent to and above a third police constable in his cruiser, putting the officer in fear for his own safety, before the tractor did in fact roll off the berm; and
the evidence of several witnesses, including the officers, who testified that the appellant’s driving caused them to fear for their own safety.
 
The Court of Appeal granted the appellant leave to appeal the decision from a summary conviction appeal judge because the appellant had been self-represented for that appeal (and may have misunderstood the procedure).  The appellant argued to the Court of Appeal that the trial judge was wrong to find that the appellant had the required mental element or intent (mens rea) for the offence charged.  He argued that the determination of the mens rea element required a determination of whether the manner of driving was a "marked departure" from the standard of care.  The appellant submitted that a lay person, lacking specialized knowledge of the operation of a tractor, is not able to appreciate the risks of operating a tractor in the circumstances or the measures a reasonable person would take to avoid them.  This, he said, would call for expert evidence.
 
The Court of Appeal disagreed.  It found that the risks of the appellant's driving and the means of avoiding those risks were "plain and obvious" and did not call for expert evidence: "While there may be cases in which expert evidence is required to establish the standard of care in the operation of a tractor and whether the accused's driving was a marked departure from that standard, this case is not one of them."  The appeal was dismissed.
 
Read the decision at: R. v. Clare.