The office of the Director of Criminal Prosecutions recently announced no charges will be laid against the provincial police officer whose car was travelling at 122 km per hour in a 50 km per hour residential zone in a suburb of Montreal before hitting a car turning left from the opposite direction, resulting in the death of a five year old boy. The officer was driving an unmarked car and initial reports indicated he was not responding to an emergency but was simply on his way to start his work shift. After widespread media reports of the parents of the victim demanding an explanation, representatives of the prosecution service met with the parents to justify the decision. It then emerged the officer was in fact on duty as part of a surveillance team assigned to follow the target of an anti-corruption squad investigation. Apparently the policeman was speeding due to the danger of the surveillance team losing contact with the target, who turned out to be a former high ranking official of the Quebec Liberal party.
When the issue was raised by opposition members in the National Assembly the minister of justice stated the decision would not be reviewed by officials within the Justice Department. However, the outcry in the media continued and the victim’s parents hired a lawyer to represent them, a decision which seems to have paid off with the recent announcement that an independent prosecutor is to be appointed to investigate the case. The task will not be an easy one since it is clear there was a degree of fault on the part of the victim’s father in turning into the path of the oncoming police officer, who had priority on the green light. On the other hand, the extremely high speed of the police car undoubtedly contributed to the difficulty of judging the safety of the turn.
Criminal lawyers know in order to be guilty criminal negligence or dangerous driving causing death the prosecution must prove at least a marked departure from the standard of care of a reasonably prudent driver and that the conduct caused the death. The question of whether the speed of the police vehicle was justified by the circumstances under which the officer was performing his duties will have to be decided. If it is determined the speed was not justified the law does not require the fault to be the sole cause of the accident; it need only be shown to be a significant contributing cause. The fact that the victim’s father contributed to the accident through his own fault would not enable the officer to escape criminal responsibility.