New & Notable: A Continued Battle with an Intractable Offence

Bonita Purtill had a prior conviction for impaired driving. Sadly that conviction did not fully deter her. On Thanksgiving day 2008, while impaired, she slammed her truck into another vehicle, killing a 5 month-old child inside and breaking the back of the mother. Purtill later refused to provide a sample of her breath.

Purtill was ultimately convicted of criminal negligence causing death, impaired causing death and refusal to provide a breath sample. The trial judge imposed a sentence of 6 years for the criminal negligence offence and impaired driving and 1 year consecutive for the refusal. Purtill appealed: 2013 ONCA 692.

In recent years the Ontario Court of Appeal has made clear that this type of offence has proven intractable and that increased sentences are not only warranted but necessary to send a strong message of deterrence and denunciation: R v Kummer, 2011 ONCA 39; R v Junkert, 2010 ONCA 549 - something I discussed in a recent blog: Fighting an Intractable Problem?

In response to the appeal in Purtill, the Court of Appeal reiterated this message and added a helpful point regarding the consecutive sentence for the refusal charge:

There is no fixed upper limit for criminal negligence causing death or impaired driving causing death. The facts of the case must govern...In this appeal, a five-month-old baby was killed and his mother's back was broken as a result of the appellant's offences. While the appellant showed remorse, she had a prior, albeit dated, criminal record for impaired driving. Furthermore, there was no error in the sentencing judge's imposition of a consecutive sentence for the offence of refusal to provide a breath sample. Counsel acknowledges that a consecutive sentence for this offence was appropriate. The seven year sentence was not unduly long or harsh in the circumstances and we are satisfied that the sentence does not offend the totality principle [para 4].

Given that an offence of refusal knowing death was caused (or bodily harm and death ensued) is now available, the guidance about the consecutive nature of that offence is notable. The battle with this intractable offence will undoubtedly continue; hopefully all courts will take note.