R v. Cowan

In Offences in a Marine Context on (Updated )

Précis: A small vessel operator was found guilty of careless operation of a vessel for transiting a narrow pass on the wrong side and creating a close quarters situation with a large passenger ferry.

Facts: The accused was charged with operating a vessel in a careless manner contrary to s. 1007 of the Small Vessel Regulations passed under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. The charge arose out of a close quarters situation that developed between the accused’s sailboat and a large ferry in Active Pass. The ferry was transiting the pass westbound from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. The accused was transiting the pass eastbound but was on the North side of the pass at the pinch point at precisely the time the ferry needed to execute a 90 degree turn.

Decision: The accused is guilty.

Held: This offence is a strict liability offence meaning the prosecution must prove the offence took place and, once it does so, the accused is guilty unless he proves on a balance of probabilities that he exercised due diligence. The act of transiting Active Pass on the North side at the pinch point at precisely the time the ferry was executing a 90 degree turn was operating a vessel in a careless manner. The pass is a narrow channel and the rule is that vessels are to pass port to port. “It is careless, and without reasonable consideration for persons navigating vessels the size of the [ferry], for a person to navigate through Active Pass such that vessels pass starboard to starboard, rather than port to port.” The accused has failed to establish a defence of due diligence. He was aware of the risk of meeting a ferry and, having taken the route he did, he put himself in a position of not being able to see it until the last moment.