The accused’s version of events, namely that he did not know that there was a dip in the road is contradictory of his evidence that he knew that there were markings on the roadway ahead permitting passing. [translation]
The Quebec Court of Appeal, interestingly, found the accused statement not to be contradictory at all. In fact, the court held that even the trial judge did not explicitly say that she did not believe the accused’s testimony, though this seems implicit in her findings with respect to the contradiction.
The QCCA held that:
The act of crossing a double line, in and of itself, does not support a conclusion of criminal culpability over civil negligence. [translation]
In this case the Court of Appeal held that the accused could have sincerely believed that there were no on-coming vehicles when he pulled around the pickup truck. The trial judge erred by failing to recognize the possibility that the accused sincerely believed that there were no cars coming and whether that mistake was reasonable in the circumstances.
Respectfully, the presence or absence of visible on-coming vehicles is not determinative on the issue of mens rea. The question is whether Belanger’s manoeuvre executed at a 100km/hr, in the dark, in a clearly marked no passing zone, on an undivided two lane highway constituted a marked departure from the conduct of a reasonable driver. The fact that the marked departure resulted in an accident with fatal consequences is a tragic aggravating consequence. However, the decision to pass without being able to see the roadway ahead in a zone which prohibits passing is sufficient to ground the requite mens rea for criminal culpability in this case. In other words with or without the accident the driving was criminally dangerous.
The appellate court concluded that on the evidentiary record before the court it was impossible to conclude that Belanger was guilty of a criminal offence. A date for the hearing before the Supreme Court of Canada has not yet been set.