The facts of the case were simply as follows. The accused and her four passengers were returning to the accused’s family cottage when their car flipped over after the accused failed to negotiate a curve. All four passengers testified at trial. The accused told the police “I don’t know what happened. The car just lost control.” The Crown expert witness admitted that there was a probability, albeit low, that the accident could have been caused by a mechanical failure.
Central to the success of the appeal hinged on the W.(D.) instruction relating to the accused’s statement. Again, the purpose of this instruction was famously described by the Supreme Court of Canada in the following clear terms:
First, if you believe the evidence of the accused, obviously you must acquit.
Second, if you do not believe the testimony of the accused but you are left in reasonable doubt by it, you must acquit.
Third, even if you are not left in doubt by the evidence of the accused, you must ask yourself whether, on the basis of the evidence which you do accept, you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt by that evidence of the guilt of the accused.
The original charge to the jury was:
I want to mention one particular piece of evidence you heard because it is deserving of special treatment according to the law.
 You heard from Alexandra Jones that she heard Megan Bacci state at the accident scene, “I do not know what happened. My car just lost control.” If you believe that this what was reported by Alexandra Jones was in fact said by Megan Bacci and if you accept Megan Bacci’s explanation that her vehicle just lost control and you find this lose [sic] of control was caused entirely by mechanical failure, you must find Megan Bacci not guilty of impaired operation causing bodily harm, operation of a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of over 80 causing bodily harm and dangerous driving causing bodily harm. You might still find her guilty of the lesser included offences in counts 1 through 4. Even if you do not accept that Megan Bacci said what was reported by Alexandra Jones or accept Megan Bacci’s explanation for what happened or accept the lose [sic] of control was caused entirely by mechanical failure, if it leaves you with a reasonable doubt about whether Megan Bacci caused the accident and the accompanying bodily harm, you must find her not guilty of those offences because the Crown would have failed to prove an essential element, that is causation of those offences beyond a reasonable doubt. You may still, however, find her guilty of the lesser and included offences in counts 1 through 4.
 Even if the evidence does not 1eave you with a reasonable doubt about whether Megan Bacci caused the accident, you may convict Megan Bacci only if the rest of the evidence that you do accept proves her guilt on that essential element of causation beyond a reasonable doubt.
The recharge to the jury was:
The one last area I want to mention the one particular piece of evidence you heard because it deserves special treatment and that’s what Megan Bacci said that what Alexandra Jones stated that she heard that is, “I do not know what happened, my car just lost control.”
I want to repeat this to you. If you believe that what was reported by Alexandra Jones was in fact said by Megan Bacci, and if you accept Megan Bacci’s explanation given to Alexandra Jones that her vehicle just lost control, and you find that this lost [sic] of control that is referred to was not caused by her in any way then you must find Megan Bacci not guilty of impaired operation causing bodily harm, operation of a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration over 80 thereby causing bodily harm and dangerous driving causing bodily harm. You might still find her guilty of the lesser and included offences of 1through 4.
So “I do not know what happened, my car just lost control”, that is from Alexandra Jones about what Megan Bacci said. So one, you have to consider whether you believe that what Alexandra Jones said was in fact said by Megan Bacci. You have to accept that that’s Megan Bacci’s explanation that the vehicle just lost control, you have to accept that explanation by her and you have to find that this loss of control that’s alluded to, that’s referred was not caused by her any way, the lost [sic] of control of the vehicle was not caused by her in any way.
If you find those three things then you must find her not guilty on counts 1through 6. You still may find her guilty of the lesser and included counts, charges in counts 1 through 4.
I hope that’s cleared it up. If not, I’m sure you will have a question but you’re free to go now.
The Court of Appeal held that the original charge to the jury did not contain any errors concerning the interpretation of the above noted statement. As such it did not cause the jury to give extra scrutiny to the defence evidence and it inured to the benefit of the accused. What is more, the trial judge did not err in his original charge when he instructed the jury that the accused must be acquitted if they found that the loss of control was “entirelycaused by mechanical failure,” as it was evident that this was not the only basis for acquittal (emphasis added). This is because the second and third arms/prongs of the W.(D.) instruction made it clear that an acquittal was possible via other paths. Thus, when the entirely instruction is reviewed in as a whole, the jury charge adequately conveyed to the jury that they were not engaged in a credibility contest.
In the recharge, the trial judge similarly did not err by providing an exculpatory interpretation to the statement. However, the trial judge failed to contextualize the recharge and identify that he was correcting a previous error. In addition, the trial judge also said nothing about the second and third branch of W.(D.)in the recharge. That served to only served to confuse the jury. Due to the foregoing, this constituted a non-direction amounting to misdirection with respect to a crucial aspect of the defence. The Court stated: “In these circumstances the jury is entitled to instructions which were clear, correct and comprehensive,as S.(W.D.) mandates. Unfortunately, the last word that the jury heard was an incorrect and incomplete instruction on critical issues.”
The defence appeal was allowed, the conviction was overturned, and a new trial was ordered.
If you have been charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm and/or a similar criminal driving related offence, contact Mr. J. S. Patel, Barrister for an initial consultation at 403-585-1960.