In Ontario,impaired operation of a boat has the same consequences as driving a car while impaired.  Our lawyers explain.

impaired driving boat cottage muskoka kawarth

Impaired operation of a boat has the same criminal consequences as driving a car on the highway including a criminal record and driving licence suspension. Speak to a lawyer to understand how you can defend these allegations and keep your licence and avoid a criminal record.

Cottage life is wonderful.  As I write this article, we are on our way up to Muskoka to enjoy a well-deserved getaway (even lawyers need their rest).  However, all too often do forget when enjoying our long weekends, there are still laws that apply to our activity as it would being at home.  In particular, its almost expected that people are go ingot have a few drinks on the dock and socialize.

Where this becomes concerning from a police point of view is when a person then takes out a boat to do some waterskiing after having a few drinks.  For whatever reason, there does not appear to be the same level of stigmatization towards getting in a boat after a few drinks, as it is to get in a car.  It’s not a question of people being bad individuals, it is simply easy to get caught up in the moment of pondering into a beautiful lake and wanting to have some fun with all the wonderful cottage toys.

Many individuals forget that the laws of Canada regarding impaired driving of a car on the highway, is the exact same as it is for driving a boat at the cottage.  In Ontario, the O.P.P. go to considerable lengths to enforce these laws and ensure that people are not drinking and boating.  If you are caught (and no thinks they will be when they get in the boat), you all face the same difficulties as if you were charged with impaired driving (or DUI) as you would driving a car.

What is “impaired driving”? Is it the same as “DUI” or “drunk driving”?

“Impaired driving” is one of the most common offences under the Criminal Code.  During the summer seasons in Ontario, the Courthouses in cottage county (the Muskokas, the Kawarthas, Halliburton, Georgian Bay) and flooded with individuals facing impaired driving and over 80 offences.

The relevant sections of the Criminal Code of Canada reads as follows:

253. (1) Every one commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle or vessel or operates or assists in the operation of an aircraft or of railway equipment or has the care or control of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment, whether it is in motion or not,

(a) while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment is impaired by alcohol or a drug; or

(b) having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the concentration in the person’s blood exceeds eighty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood.

(2) For greater certainty, the reference to impairment by alcohol or a drug in paragraph (1)(a) includes impairment by a combination of alcohol and a drug.

As noted above, section 253 of the Criminal Code captures what most people refer to when they are speaking of a drinking and driving charge.  This also includes driving while impaired by drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, LSD, etc..

What happens if I just plead guilty?  I don’t have to take my boat out at the cottage anyway so it’s not a big deal right?

That really depends on how one defines it being a big deal.  For 95% of people charged, it is a very big deal.  At minimum, you will obtain a criminal records, a $1000.00 fine, and a one year driving suspension.  This suspension includes not only your boat, but also you car. These consequences are the minimum. If there are aggravating features such as a repeat offence, someone was harmed, or blood alcohol levels were high to name a few, those sentences can significantly increase.   Suffice to say, the consequences of pleading guilty are severe for most.

In addition to the criminal consequences, there is also significant insurance rate adjustments.  Here is one article from an insurance company explaining rates increases to the point of doubling or tripling.  Some insurance companies will refuse to even insure a person with an impaired driving criminal record, forcing that person to go with high risk brokers and paying the corresponding high rates.

The specific penalties under the Criminal Code are as follows:

255. (1) Every one who commits an offence under section 253 or 254 is guilty of an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable

(a) whether the offence is prosecuted by indictment or punishable on summary conviction, to the following minimum punishment, namely,

(i) for a first offence, to a fine of not less than $1,000,

(ii) for a second offence, to imprisonment for not less than 30 days, and

(iii) for each subsequent offence, to imprisonment for not less than 120 days;

(b) where the offence is prosecuted by indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; and

(c) if the offence is punishable on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term of not more than 18 months.

[…]

259. (1) When an offender is convicted of an offence committed under section 253 […] the court that sentences the offender shall, in addition to any other punishment that may be imposed for that offence, make an order prohibiting the offender from operating a motor vehicle on any street, road, highway or other public place, or from operating a vessel or an aircraft or railway equipment, as the case may be,

(a) for a first offence, during a period of not more than three years plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, and not less than one year;

(b) for a second offence, during a period of not more than five years plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, and not less than two years; and

(c) for each subsequent offence, during a period of not less than three years plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment.

Is it urgent?  Do I need to speak to a lawyer right away or can I just go to Court and see what happens?

People approach charges of this nature in many different ways, and that is their right to do so.  However, one must understand that delaying this decision in retaining a lawyer or acting on the charges may have consequences.  For example, if a person chooses to plead guilty early they are eligible for “Stream A” or “Stream B” licence reinstatement and reduced driving prohibitions.   For those charges in Ontario, a detailed explanation of the differences between such programs can be found at the Ministry of Transportation website. 

Depending on the facts of your case, entering such a program may or may not be advisable.  This is something that speaking to a lawyer about will assist you in understudying what is best suited for you particular car.  However, those decisions need to be made promptly and no less than 90 days from the date of the offence in the case of “Stream A” allowances. Time is of the essence and speaking to a lawyer immediately is advisable.

Do I really need a lawyer for impaired driving charges relating to a boating incident?

Of all areas of law, impaired driving is one of the most complicated.  It requires a great deal of experience and knowledge to understand the legal issues.  To name only a few common aspects:

  • Can the Crown prove the person was in “care and control” of the motor vehicle at the time of the offence?
  • Was there an intention or act of driving even if they had constructive care and control of the vehicle (for example, found drunk sleeping in a running car to keep warm)?
  • Were the devices used approved in law?
  • Were the devices in proper working order and maintained in accordance with manufacturer specifications?
  • Did the police engage the testing as soon as practicable?
  • Were there any constitutional violations in obtaining the samples or observations of impairment?
  • Was the person detained in excess of what they ought to have been in the circumstances?
  • Do the observations made prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person was impaired at the time?
  • Does new provisions under the Criminal Code to establish impairment by drug meet sufficient levels of reliability or are they junk science?

As mentioned, this is only a small fraction of the types of issues a lawyer will look at in assessing the merit to defending an impaired driving / over 80 charge that a client may be facing.  Even though a person has an absolute right to defend themselves, they also have an absolute right to try and take out their own wisdom teeth – neither decision will end well.

Will your firm help me all the way in Cottage Country?

Our law firm travels to all areas in Ontario to assist our clients.  This includes representing people with impaired driving in Haliburton, the Kawarthas, Georgian Bay, Muskokas, and any other areas within Ontario.  Although based in Toronto, our firm is travelling daily to assist our clients throughout Ontario.  During the course of our existence, our lawyers have travelled everywhere from Ottawa to Windsor.

Please call one of our lawyers today at (416) 999-8389 for an initial consultation at no cost before making any decision that will result in severe consequences that will undoubtedly affect your ability to work, travel, and support yourself and family.

2016-10-24T11:59:15+00:00

About the Author:

Sean Robichaud is lead counsel and owner of Robichaud's.