Notification of the SIU
On April 3, 2019, at 4:45 p.m., the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Northeast Region notified the SIU of the serious injury sustained by the Complainant as a result of a collision with an OPP cruiser 20 minutes prior.
The OPP reported that at 4:25 p.m., on April 3, 2019, a marked OPP cruiser en route to a low priority call on Highway 101 broadsided a snowmobile operated by the Complainant. The Complainant was attempting to cross Highway 101 at the time. He suffered several fractures to his left leg requiring surgeries.
Number of SIU Investigators assigned: 2
63-year-old male interviewed, medical records obtained and reviewed
CW #1 Not interviewed (Next-of-Kin)
CW #2 Interviewed
CW #3 Interviewed
SO Declined interview and to provide notes, as is the subject officer’s legal right
Global Positioning System (GPS) Data
The following data was obtained from the OPP GPS Gate Data Delivery. The report covers the movements of the subject officer’s police vehicle on Highway 101 to the scene of the collision. A total of 211 points are mapped on the Google Earth map but the following numbers indicate the police vehicle from point 168 (two kilometres from impact) to point 188 (the area of impact). The speed limit on Highway 101 changes from 90 km/h to 50 km/h and is noted at point 184, 450 metres from the scene.
Crash Data Retrieval (CDR) Data
The CDR Report captured the police vehicle speed for the final five seconds before impact. At five seconds prior to impact, the police vehicle was traveling at about 116 km/h and continually decreased speed to the point of impact indicating that the police officer did not apply the accelerator from that point on. At the point of impact, the police cruiser was traveling at about 71 km/h.
Materials obtained from Police Service
Upon request the SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from the OPP Wawa Detachment (Superior East):
- Computer-Assisted Dispatch Event Details;
- CDR Report;
- GPS data associated with the SO’s cruiser;
- Notes of the WO;
- OPP Draft Diagrams;
- Identification Number for the Mobile Work Station assigned to the SO’s cruiser;
- Google Earth photograph of the scene;
- Preliminary Photo-brief prepared for the SIU; and
- The OPP Reconstruction Report.
Materials obtained from Other Sources
The SIU received the Complainant’s medical records from the Sault Area Hospital.
4:00 p.m. on April 3, 2019, the Complainant, together with CW #2 and CW #3, had come off Wawa Lake on their snowmobiles and were stopped north of Highway 101 looking to cross south over the roadway into town. At the same time, the SO was in his cruiser travelling west along Highway 101 toward Wawa in response to a reported theft at a shop in town. As the officer negotiated a rightward bend in the road approaching the snowmobilers’ position, he observed the Complainant in his lane ahead of him and attempted to avoid a collision by swerving to the left. Moments prior, the Complainant had accelerated forward onto the roadway.The impact between the vehicles occurred in the westbound lane of Highway 101 at the roadway’s intersection with Gladstone Avenue. The front passenger side of the cruiser struck the front left side of the snowmobile, sending it west and north until it came to rest on the westbound shoulder of the highway several metres from the point of impact. The Complainant was thrown from the snowmobile and landed on the roadway. The SO stopped his cruiser in the eastbound lane of the highway, exited and went to check on the Complainant. The officer sustained minor injuries in the collision, apparently the result of his cruiser’s airbag deployment.
Section 128(13)(b), Highway Traffic Act – Police vehicles and speeding
(b) a police department vehicle being used in the lawful performance of a police officer’s duties.
Section 320.13, Criminal Code – Dangerous operation causing bodily harm
Analysis and Director’s Decision
The Complainant was seriously injured on April 3, 2019 while on a snowmobile trip with a couple of friends. He was on his snowmobile attempting to cross Highway 101 in Wawa when he was struck by an OPP cruiser being operated by the SO. The Complainant was transported to hospital where he was treated for multiple fractures of his left leg. On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the SO committed a criminal offence in connection with the collision.
The offence that arises for consideration is dangerous driving causing bodily harm contrary to section 320.13(2) of the Criminal Code. As an offence of penal negligence, liability under the section rests on conduct that, in addition to being objectively characterized as dangerous, amounts to a marked departure from the level of care that a reasonable person would have observed in the circumstances: R. v. Beatty,  1 SCR 49; R. v. Sharp (1984), 12 CCC (3d) 428 (Ont. C.A.). While I have no doubt that the SO was driving dangerously in the moments before the collision, and that his dangerous driving was largely responsible for what occurred, I am of the view that the evidence falls just short of justifying criminal charges against the officer.
The central issue in the liability analysis is with the SO’s speed. While traveling west on Highway 101 some six kilometres from the scene of the collision, there was a pronounced increase in the officer’s velocity to about 136 km/h from 111 km/h eight seconds earlier, presumably in response to the theft call in Wawa. The SOcontinued apace westward at speeds between 121 km/h and 152 km/h over the course of the next five and a half kilometres, traveling for the most part at 140 km/h and above against a 90 km/h speed limit. Some 450 metres east of the collision site, there was a traffic sign for westbound motorists indicating a drop in the speed limit from 90 km/h to 50 km/h as the highway wound its way into the Town of Wawa. The SO appears to have entered this zone at about 138 km/h, thereafter decelerating to 113 km/h within a span of 250 metres. At the point of impact, a further 150 metres down the road, the SO was travelling at about 71 km/h.
I am satisfied that the SO’s speeds as he responded to the theft call, which were significantly in excess of the speed limits that governed the roadway over which he travelled, constituted a risk to traffic around him. I am further satisfied that the officer’s speed was the pivotal factor in the collision that occurred. The Complainant appears to have done little if anything wrong in relation to the accident, and I do not believe he saw the SO’s cruiser before entering the roadway. Travelling as fast as it was, it is conceivable that the cruiser would not have been visible to the Complainant until just before impact. On the other hand, the SO appears to have seen the Complainant’s snowmobile entering onto the roadway but was unable to avoid a collision owing, in my view, to the speed at which he was travelling.
Further aggravating the danger caused by the SO’s speed was the officer’s failure to activate his emergency lights and/or siren. He ought to have known, particularly as he crossed into the 50 km/h zone, that traffic around him would have little time to react to his cruiser given how fast it was going. In the circumstances, the officer ought to have activated his emergency lights and/or siren to alert the public as early as possible to his presence. One is left to speculate, reasonably in my view, that the Complainant might well have not ventured onto the roadway when he did had he been given advance notice of the cruiser via its siren or emergency lights.
Finally, when considering the inculpatory impact of the SO’s speed, it is important to bear in mind that a police officer’s foremost duty is at all times the preservation of life. It does a police officer no good if in responding to a call for service his or her conduct unduly endangers public safety. I fully appreciate that police officers are frequently faced with difficult choices with little time in which to make them, and that allowance must be made for less than exacting decisions made in the heat of the moment. That said, in the context of an officer who had travelled several kilometres over approximately three minutes before the collision occurred, it is difficult to countenance the persistence of the SO’s excessive speed to get to the scene of what was, after all, a property offence.
On the other side of the ledger, while one might question the wisdom of travelling as fast as the SO was to get to the scene of a reported theft, the fact remains that he was engaged in the execution of his duty and therefore exempt from the speed limits pursuant to section 128(13)(b) of the Highway Traffic Act. This is not to suggest that the SO had carte-blanche to speed as he wished without regard to public safety; however, quite apart from whether the SO paid sufficient heed to public safety as he sped westward on Highway 101, it is important to recognize that he was a police officer responding to the scene of a reported crime. In other words, if the officer’s conduct was ill-guided, it was not without rhyme or reason.
It is also true that most of Highway 101 over which the SO travelled in response to the reported theft was predominantly rural in nature with little development on either side of the road. It was only as the SO approached the Town of Wawa and the speed limit became 50 km/h for westbound traffic, some 450 metres from the collision scene, that the officer’s speed coalesced with the environment around him to create a clear and present danger of accident. In the circumstances, while I am unable to characterize the gravamen of the SO’s transgressions as fleeting or momentary, it was relatively short-lived – about half a kilometre and some 13 seconds.
The evidence further suggests that snowbanks on the shoulder of the highway, trees and shrubs on both sides of the snowmobile trail, and a “no parking” sign just east of the location where the Complainant attempted to cross the roadway may have obstructed his line of sight toward the approaching cruiser, thereby contributing to the accident. In fact, the obstructions may well have detracted from the SO’s sightlines as well. All of which is to suggest that the officer’s speed was likely not the only factor at play in the collision.
Lastly, it would not appear that the environmental conditions that prevailed at the time exacerbated the risks to public safety inherent in the SO’s speed. The roadway was dry and in fair condition, and visibility was good.
In the final analysis, while one may legitimately criticize the SO for the manner in which he operated his police cruiser in the moments leading to its collision with the Complainant and his snowmobile, I am unable to reasonably conclude that the officer’s conduct was so substandard as to amount to a marked deviation from a reasonable level of care. Accordingly, there are no grounds for proceeding with charges in this case and the file is therefore closed.
Date: February 5, 2020
Original signed by
Special Investigations Unit
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