R v. Sillars

In Offences in a Marine Context, Other Practice Topics on (Updated )

Précis: The Ontario Court of Justice held that the definition of "vessel" when used in ss. 253(1)(a), 253(1)(b) and 249(1)(b) of the Criminal Code is inclusive of a canoe.

Facts: This was a ruling on whether a canoe is included in the definition of “vessel” when used in sections 214 to 320.1 of the Criminal Code. The accused was charged with impaired operation of a vessel causing death, operating a vessel with over 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mg of blood, dangerous operation of a vessel and criminal negligence causing death. Crown and defence took different positions on whether canoe was within the definition of “vessel” for criminal offences. The Code defines vessel in s. 214 as “a machine designed to derive support in the atmosphere primarily from reactions against the earth’s surface of air expelled from the machine”. Both counsel were in agreement — and advised the Court — that this was the first occasion in which the definition of “vessel” was to be litigated and decided. The Crown submitted that s.4(4) of the Code and s. 15(2)(b) of the Interpretation Act should be considered first to determine a word not defined in the Code, citing other Federal statutes in which “vessel” was defined which included the Canada Shipping Act, Navigation Protection Act, and the Public Harbours Port Facilities Act. Defence argued that since those other statutes were unrelated to criminal law, the definition of “vessel” should not be imported into the Code.

Decision: The Court found that the term “vessel” in s.253(1)(a), s. 251(b) and s.249(1)(b) of the Criminal Code includes a canoe.

Held: In reliance on s. 4(4) of the Code, the Court looked to other Federal statutes where the subject-matter was the same as that in the Code. In finding the subject-matter common to those statutes is the definition of “vessels” however propelled, the Court decided that a canoe fell within the term “vessel”. The Court agreed with Crown that the Code does not require other federal statutes to be related to criminal law to help define a term. The Court looked to the Hansard from 1961 which revealed that Parliament adopted offences from the Small Vessel Regulations and imported them into the Code, relying on the definition of “vessel” under the regulations, which included a canoe. A cross-jurisdictional analysis undertaken by the Court noted that the U.S. federal offence of “boating under the influence” pertained to all boats, ranging from canoes to the largest ships. The Court expressly rejected the defendant’s proposition that a person who is legally impaired and operating a vessel propelled by muscular power should not be punished for their conduct since it lacks the moral culpability to justify a criminal sanction.