One Does Not Need To Intend To Drive Dangerous To Be Found Guilty of Dangerous Driving

greg monfortonAt about 3:40 p.m. on Jan 19, 1998, Surinder Hundal was driving a dump truck on a wet four-lane street in Vancouver. He went through a red light at an intersection and crashed into a small car, killing the driver.

Hundal was charged under the Criminal Code with dangerous driving causing death. At his trial, on the basis of the testimony of several witnesses, the judge decided that Hundal could have and should have stopped for the light. Hundal was convicted.

He appealed his conviction to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and, when he lost there, to the Supreme Court of Canada. On March 11, 1993, in an important legal ruling, the Supreme Court also upheld his conviction.

The important legal point was the question of the mental element necessary for a dangerous driving conviction. The defense lawyers argued that a subjective test should be applied i.e., that an accused should not be convicted unless he intended to do harm or was at least aware of the risk posed by his conduct. If the accused did not possess this intent or awareness, he might be convicted of a less serious offence, such as careless driving under a provincial Highway Traffic Act, but not the criminal offence of dangerous driving.

The Supreme Court of Canada rejected these arguments and decided an objective test was appropriate. As long as the accused conduct demonstrated a significant departure from what a reasonable person could be expected to do in the circumstances, a conviction would result. The Court decided it was proper to consider many of the particular circumstances of each case whether the road was wet or foggy but that it would not normally be necessary to consider the accused specific mental state.

Several competing values and principles were at stake in this case. For instance, on one hand there is the important criminal law principle that the Crown prosecutors should be made to establish a certain mental element some form of a guilty mind before a criminal conviction results. On the other hand, the Supreme Court perceived an urgent need to crack down on dangerous drivers, citing the increasingly large number of fatal accidents and personal injuries on Canadian roads.