Criminal Law - Criminal Negligence in the Operation of a Motor Vehicle, Criminal Law - Elements of the Offence
The trial judge was required to decide whether the Crown had proven the elements of the offence of criminal negligence causing death or injury in the operation of a motor vehicle. Evidence was led by the Crown establishing that the accused, an experienced professional driver of semi-trailer trucks, drove a Chevrolet truck westbound in the northeast lane of a divided four-lane highway, doing so for at least 200 yards; ignored signage indicating he was driving westerly in the eastbound lanes; ignored road line markings indicating he should not cross onto these lanes; and failed to react when the operator of a motor vehicle driving towards him easterly in the southeast lane flashed his high/low beams to alert him that he was driving in the opposite direction to that in which he should have been travelling. The evidence also proved he had alcohol in his blood and was alone in his truck. The accused, while operating his vehicle in this manner, collided head-on with a Toyota motor vehicle traveling eastbound in the same northeast lane of traffic in which the accused was travelling west. The collision was devastating since both vehicles were travelling at about the speed limit of 110 km per hour. Upon impact, the operator of the Toyota and the front seat passenger were killed, and the rear passenger was seriously injured. The accused was also seriously injured. The trial judge was required to decide whether the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt the actus reus and the mens rea of the offences.
HELD: After reviewing the elements of the offence of dangerous driving, which is lower on the scale of what constitutes criminal departure from normal driving, the trial judge considered the actus reus and mens rea elements of the offence of criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle, and in doing so was persuaded by the reasoning of the trial judge in R v Dunford that the actus reus of criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle is proven by evidence which establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused, having a legal duty to use reasonable care to avoid damage to others, operates a motor vehicle with a wanton and reckless disregard for the life or safety of other persons. The mens rea is proven by evidence which establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did so with a demonstrated marked and substantial departure from the conduct of a reasonable prudent driver. The trial judge in R v Dunford defined “wanton” to mean “heedless,” “ungoverned,” or “an unrestrained disregard for consequences;” and reckless as “heedless of the consequences, headlong, irresponsible.” Whether there is an actus reus (criminal act), is to be determined objectively, through the lens of a reasonable person, whereas the mens rea (intention) of an accused requires a subjective inquiry as to what an accused meant to do. The consequences of the actions of an accused are not to be considered as they cannot assist the trial judge in the analysis of culpability. The trial judge ruled that as a driver on the highway, the accused had a legal duty to other persons, and on the basis of the accused’s pattern of driving as revealed by the evidence, both the actus reus and the mens rea of the offences of criminal negligence causing death and causing injury were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.