Understanding Criminal Negligence

Picture this:


Junior Johnson is returning home from a fantastic night at a sports bar on January 11th, 2010 (11pm). His team, the Toronto Maple Leafs had just whipped the Ottawa Senators. He leaves the bar drunk and chooses to drive home. On his way home, he runs a red light at a busy intersection, and drives into a car containing a mother-daughter passenger duo. This is witnessed by many. Paramedics and Police officers are called and all parties involved in the collision are taken to the hospital. A few days later Junior finds out that the mother is dead and the daughter is paralyzed from the waist down.


April Summer is rushing home to catch the upcoming episode of Scandal. She approaches a red light and observes that there are no vehicles in the vicinity and decides to “gun” it. She has made a conscious decision, based on what she has observed to ignore what she knows to do when she faces a red light, which is to stop. No one is injured and no one sees her.

Which scenario do you think would be considered a case of criminal negligence? Read more to find out if youre right.

This article will explore the concept of Criminal Negligence under the auspices of Canadian law, and in so doing will help one in making determinations about what it takes for any act to be considered criminally negligent. The article will also consider the application of the law by highlighting the case of R. v. Vermette, 2012 MBQB 46.


According to the laws of Canada,

(1)   Every one is criminally negligent who

(a)  in doing anything, or

(b)  in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.

(2)   For the purposes of this section, “duty” means a duty imposed by law.”¹

Thus criminal negligence is concerned with acts that come about as a result of an individual ignoring what is expected of him/her legally. For example, in both Scenario #1 and Scenario #2 the actors chose to “run” a red light. This is an illegal act and can thus be considered criminally negligent.

If a criminal negligence case is pursued by the Crown – meaning if the state seeks to prosecute an individual on the basis of criminal negligence – it would have to meet a burden of proof. The Crown would need to:

  1. Identify the negligent actor
  2. Provide information about the date and time of the incident
  3. Identify jurisdiction
  4. Identify the negligent act, and identify how it showed recklessness and disregard for the life and safety of a third party/parties.


When a third party(s) die(s) because of negligent behavior, this is termed causing death by criminal negligence.


When a third party(s) ensue(s) bodily harm because of negligent behavior, this is termed causing bodily harm by criminal negligence.

Applying the knowledge accumulated thus far, if you come to the following conclusions, you would be accurate, and you can say that you are well on your way to understanding criminal negligence.


  1. Both Junior Johnson and April Summer committed negligent acts. Junior Johnson drove under the influence of alcohol, in addition to running a red light, while April Summer ran a red light. These acts are a direct violation of the legal duties of the actors. It is the legal duty of any Canadian citizen to not drink and drive. It is also the legal duty of Canadian citizens to adhere the signals given by traffic lights.
  1. Only Scenario #1 can be pursued by the Crown on the basis of a sufficient burden of proof. In Scenario #1 the Crown would be able to identify the accused, Junior Johnson. The Crown would also be able to provide information about the date and time of the incident due to its impact. The police report provides information about the jurisdiction. The state also has proof of the negligent act as Mr. Johnson was witnessed running the red light. In addition, his hospital records show proof of his level of inebriation at the time of the incident.
  1. In Scenario #1 Johnson Junior’s negligent act of “running” a red light resulted in the paralysis of one woman, and the death of another. His case, in addition to falling under the purview of causing death by criminal negligence, also falls under the purview of causing bodily harm by criminal negligence.
  1. Scenario #2 is a case of criminal negligence, but cannot be pursued by the Crown. There is not sufficient information to build a burden of proof. There are no witnesses or cameras.


The case of R. v. Vermette, 2012 MBQB 46 has all the elements to provide an understanding of the practical application of criminal negligence law in Canada. The case states that a farmer, Mr. Vermette, experienced a break down in his Ford Super Duty truck due to computer trouble codes. The vehicle, along with an attached cultivator stalled at an incline. This obstructed visibility for oncoming vehicles, and at 11pm, June 27th, a driver, Mr. Hargreaves, collided with the cultivator. Mr. Hargreaves sustained severe injuries and died.  The Crown accused Mr. Vermette of causing death by criminal negligence.

Mr. Vermette’s defense sought to show that Mr. Hargreaves was not negligent in his behavior. According to the information collected, the place in which the truck stopped was beyond his control and he had done all humanly possible to try to avoid his stalled truck and attached cultivator from becoming a problem. He had tried to find a tow service to remove the truck, but none were available at the time. While the flashers were not on due to technical issues, the cultivator possessed reflective markings on the side and back.

In light of these circumstances, Mr. Vermette was acquitted of the indictment of criminal negligence. In her ruling, the judge brought to the fore the importance of focusing on proof of negligence. In other words, Mr. Vermette cannot be found criminally negligent because Mr. Hargreaves died. He could only be criminally negligent if he engaged in negligent actions. According to the judge, Mr. Vermette’s actions did not show “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.”

Thus,  in the application of the law, an individual cannot be found criminally negligent based on the severity of the result of the alleged negligence. One can only be found criminally negligent on the basis of negligence.


This article has been prepared for and posted by The Law Firm of Ted Yoannou. While we make every effort to post useful and factual information, the material found here should not be interpreted as legal advice. Please contact us if you wish to review your own individual circumstances, info@torontocriminallawyers.com, 416‑650‑1011.

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