Accident Database

Report ID# 50128

  • Other
  • Does not Apply
  • Solo Paddling

Accident Description

Toronto man found guilty of impaired operation of a canoe in precedent-setting case

By Catherine McDonaldCrime Specialist  Global News

An Etobicoke man has been found guilty of impaired operation of a canoe causing death, the first time charges of impaired operation of a vessel have been laid in which the individual operating the canoe had consumed alcohol and marijuana prior to going for a ride.

David Sillars was also convicted of three other charges, including operation of a vessel with a blood-alcohol content over 80 milligrams causing death, dangerous operation of a vessel causing death and criminal negligence causing death.

The trial was heard by Justice Peter C. West alone.

On April 7, 2017, 40-year-old Sillars took his girlfriend’s eight-year-old son Thomas Rancourt for a canoe ride down the Muskoka River. The canoe capsized, and Sillars was able to swim to shore, but Thomas, who was wearing a life-jacket, continued downriver, went over the waterfall at High Falls and drowned. Two OPP officers were later able to rescue Thomas from the bottom of the falls, but it was too late.

Court heard that school buses had been cancelled that day due to poor road conditions and that the water was turbulent and fast-flowing. Thomas’ mother, Jessica Hooper, testified during the trial that Sillars was like a stepfather and a role model to Thomas and that she did not believe Sillars showed any signs of impairment prior to the deadly canoe ride.

In his judgment, West wrote: “In my view, there is a reasonable inference based on the evidence that David Sillars’ intellectual abilities, particularly in respect to choice reaction time and decision making were significantly impaired.”

Court heard Sillars’ minimum blood-alcohol content was 128 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood and that he had 14 nanograms of THC in his blood. Outside court, Thomas’ father expressed relief about the guilty verdicts. “I couldn’t be happier knowing that he (Thomas) didn’t die for nothing, “ said Jamie Rancourt, choking back tears.

Thomas’ maternal grandmother, Donna Posnikoff, said justice had been served, though it doesn’t bring back her grandson.

“He was such a smiling, happy, caring boy, and my worst fear is that he was coerced into going into that canoe. I hope he went happy and I hope he went into that canoe thinking he was going on an adventure because Thomas was so pleasing,” she said.

Sillars remains free on bail until sentencing. West set aside a day in August for sentencing submissions and victim impact statements. Neither Sillars nor his lawyer had any comment as they left court.

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