The Ontario Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by an Etobicoke man convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for faulty boat operation and criminal negligence that caused the death of his girlfriend’s eight-year-old son.

On April 7, 2017, David Sillars was at a friend’s cabin on the Muskoka River in the town of Bracebridge and took his girlfriend’s son, Thomas Rancourt, canoeing down the river during spring runoff.

The water was ice cold and moving quickly. Thomas did not know how to canoe and he was a weak swimmer. Sillars and the boy were rowing toward High Falls to retrieve a piece of debris wedged against a yellow barrier warning of danger due to the falls, and the canoe capsized. The eight-year-old boy was swept away by the falls and died.

Sillars managed to swim to shore. She had a blood alcohol content of 128 milligrams in 100 milliliters of blood, more than one and a half times the legal limit.

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On June 27, 2019, Sillars was convicted by Judge Peter C. West, and on October 4, 2019, he was sentenced to six years in prison.

In late May, Sillars’ attorneys argued before the Ontario Court of Appeal that a canoe is not a vessel under the Penal Code. They also argued that Sillars’ right to counsel was infringed because police failed to inform him of his right to counsel prior to the approved screening device (ASD) and that there was no expert evidence as to the standard of care relied upon. a conviction for a criminal offence. negligence could be based. Sillars also argued that the sentence is “manifestly inadequate.”

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The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge, who concluded that a canoe is a “vessel” under the Penal Code. In their decision, Judge Mary Lou Benotto, Judge Bradley Miller and Judge Julie Thorburn wrote that “the purpose of the law is to protect the public from the consequences of the defective operation of conveyances on the water.”

“The deterioration creates risks for the passengers of a canoe, other boats, swimmers and lifeguards. Unlicensed conveyances, non-motorized vessels, and sailboats present a risk of injury and death just like licensed and motorized conveyances,” they added.

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As to whether expert evidence was required to convict Sillars of criminal negligence, the judges determined that expert evidence was not necessary given the lengthy conclusions of the trial judge. These include the fact that the outside temperature was between 3 C and 4 C on April 7, 2017. School buses had been canceled due to snow and ice on the roads. The spring snowmelt was in full swing and the water level was high. The temperature of the Muskoka River was frigid and cold.

At least two people with experience of water conditions during spring runoff warned Sillars not to go canoeing because it was too dangerous. The life jacket Thomas was wearing was too small. Sillars had consumed alcohol and had also smoked cannabis prior to the canoe trip. Thomas looked up to Appellant as a father figure and this relationship with Thomas created a duty of care from Appellant to Thomas.

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“The trial judge’s findings of fact lead to the inescapable conclusion that appellant’s actions departed markedly and substantially from the conduct of a reasonably prudent person and showed wanton and reckless disregard for the life and safety of Thomas, a child owed a duty of care,” the appellate judges wrote.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge that a six-year sentence was appropriate, noting Sillars’ extensive criminal history (including a previous prison sentence) and the appellant’s role as a father figure to Thomas, that placed him in a position of trust. and authority

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Appellate judges noted that denunciation and general deterrence are the overriding sentencing principles in motor vehicle cases, saying that it applies equally to watercraft.

“The fact that the conveyance here was a canoe did not detract from the potential danger posed by the impaired operation and criminal negligence in its operation,” the judges wrote, noting that the seriousness of the crimes was as high as the culpability. appellant’s morals.

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Sillars surrendered into custody Tuesday morning and will begin serving his sentence. He has 60 days to file an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. Sillars’ attorney, Frank Addario, declined a request for comment on the appeal decision.

Thomas Rancourt’s family told Global News they are relieved.

“Justice for Thomas is what we wanted. I’m in shock, I’m shaking,” said Donna Posnikoff, Thomas’s grandmother, who is still grieving the loss of her grandson.

“Dave Sillars, I am so happy that he is in jail. You have no idea. I’m crying for Thomas though,” Posnikoff said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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