Tim Schewe

Drivesmart column: When drivers kill

Most people hearing this news are likely to ask, why hadn’t the driver been charged with homicide?

By Tim Schewe

I’ve often thought to myself over the years that if I ever wanted to kill someone the best way to do it would be to drive over them. I would wait until I found them stepping into a crosswalk and make sure that I hit them while I was turning onto the street they were crossing. I would then screech to a halt, return and scream, “Oh no, I didn’t see them, I’m sorry!”

If I planned it just right, I might get away with a traffic ticket and have my insurer pay the bills.

Of course I’m being facetious, but the thought runs through my mind whenever I watch or read a news story where a driving error results in a death and the offending driver is convicted of a Motor Vehicle Act offence because of it. This week’s sentencing of Conrad Wetten by Judge K. L. Whonnock for the death of Shinder Kirk near Nanaimo in December 2018 is another example.

Testimony heard at the trial supported that Wetten was not impaired, was not distracted by a cell phone and was not speeding or driving recklessly in the moments leading up to the crash.

Mr. Wetten was fined $1,500 and will receive six penalty points. The judge declined to prohibit Mr. Wetten from driving because he needs his driver’s licence to work.

Mr. Wetten is also facing a civil suit for liability because of the collision. Depending on his collision history and coverage, it is possible that he will only pay the same amount that the rest of us contribute to ICBC for his error. We will all share the monetary cost while family and friends share the additional emotional burden.

Most people hearing this news are likely to ask, why hadn’t the driver been charged with homicide?

The Criminal Code of Canada says that homicide occurs when someone directly or indirectly, by any means, causes the death of a human being. Homicide is not an offence unless it is culpable, meaning that the death is caused by an unlawful act, criminal negligence, causing someone to kill themselves by threats, fear of violence or deception or wilfully frightening them, in the case of a child or sick person.

Murder is culpable homicide where the person who causes the death of a human being means to cause his death or means to cause him bodily harm that he knows is likely to cause his death, and is reckless whether death ensues or not. However, murder may be reduced to manslaughter if the person who committed it did so in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation.

When I originally wrote this story back in 2009, I used an example of a trial where a driver struck another vehicle and then returned to the scene to deliberately run over a passenger who had exited the other vehicle. The offending driver was culpable and charged with criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle causing death.

The maximum penalty here is the same as it is for murder, life in prison. The main difference is the minimum sentence imposed by each of these offences. The choice of which charges to prefer belongs to Crown Counsel after looking at all the evidence in the context of current case law and having decided on whether there is a substantial possibility of conviction.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

Column