Calgarians took to the Elbow River in an effort to stay cool on Monday Aug. 6, 2018.
It was a landmark Canadian court case that stemmed from a terrible tragedy.In April 2017, eight-year-old Thomas Rancourt was found dead in the Muskoka River, at the bottom of High Falls. In June, in an Oshawa, Ont., courtroom, David Sillars became the first Canadian to be convicted of impaired driving charges for paddling a canoe, in connection with the boy’s death. Sillars had been drinking at a friend’s cottage when he went canoeing on the river with Rancourt, his girlfriend’s son. Sillars was convicted this year on four charges, including impaired operation of a vessel causing death and dangerous operation of a vessel.Officers with Calgary police were among those closely following the case. But marine unit Acting Sgt. Alasdair Robertson-More said while the recent court decision might heighten sensitivity to laying charges in connection with watercraft operation, his team is already constantly in “detection mode.”“We do tend to use a lot of alternative techniques to try and take care of things before they happen,” he said. “We run a patrol to try and detect alcohol, in addition to checking for safety equipment, and that’s our big preventative measure.“We also tend to remove intoxicated people from the river and kind of try and find alternative ways to deal with them,” he added. “However, if it was a situation where we could articulate that there was an imminent, significant risk to life, then absolutely, we would be laying the charges.”While rafting Calgary’s rivers has its hazards, police haven’t encountered significantly risky intoxication on local waterways since the Ontario decision, Robertson-More said.Since the case launched, reforms to impaired driving laws have provided greater clarity on what is a vessel and who is liable to be charged on board of a vessel, he noted.“The new wording is basically any person who’s navigating, assisting in the navigation of, or has care or control of the vessel is liable for impaired operation,” Robertson-More said. “That gives a little bit more clarity, because we kind of struggle with who’s operating a raft. So I think (Bill) C-46 gives us a little bit better understanding of where we can go with it.”He added the procedures for officers with the marine unit are the same as for any regular patrol car when it comes to impaired operation.“We could charge somebody just straight impaired and release them with paperwork, or either need a breath tech or a drug recognition expert to determine what the substance is that’s intoxicating,” he said.As river floating season continues, Robertson-More said the marine unit will keep monitoring for safety on the water, including ensuring boaters are wearing life jackets and not consuming alcohol — both things that officers are “always looking for.”Wearing a life jacket is required by bylaw on all of Calgary’s waterways. Tickets for failing to comply involve a mandatory court appearance and up to $500 in fines. Being intoxicated or transporting alcohol or drugs on Calgary waterways is illegal.“When you come out on the river, come out sober,” Robertson-More said. “Leave the alcohol at home, because at the end of the day, the potential price is impaired floating or even just using intoxicants near water. The price is just far too high.”