Editorial: What punishment is needed?
What will become of Keith Dunford this fall?
September 28, 2015 By Andrew Macklin
While most of the aggregates and road construction industry works tirelessly to meet production deadlines, an important trial awaits its final verdict.
By the time you receive this issue, we should all know the fate of 47-year-old Keith Dunford of Regina, Sask., charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death after Dunford’s SUV struck and killed 18-year-old Ashley Richards. Richards was on her first day of work for HJR Asphalt near Midale, Sask., working as a flagperson on a road construction site.
The Crown argued that the construction site warnings were more than adequate, and that Dunford had been speeding through a construction (orange) zone on an uneven highway, passing two trucks despite signs stating not to pass. The Defence attorney provided arguments relating to sign placement, whether or not the negligence in the case was of a criminal nature, and what exactly the defendant was doing at the time of the incident (and the punishment doled out in previous cases of a similar nature).
It has been made perfectly clear through his own admission that Dunford did strike and kill Richards, but whether or not it is to the extent of criminal negligence seems to be the bottom line issue.
In Section 219 of the Criminal Code of Canada, criminal negligence is defined as:
- (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.
Granted, defining criminal negligence in a court of law has been the bane of the existence of many lawyers while practicing law. It is an inherently vague definition that has been interpreted and re-interpreted by many of our country’s top legal minds.
I’m not a lawyer, but a simple reading of this text from the Criminal Code would indicate that Dunford’s actions qualify as criminal negligence.
Which leads us to the decision being made by Justice Lana Krogan, and the impact it could potentially have on the future of road construction projects in Canada.
A quote from Dunford’s defence lawyer during the trial, used in a CBC article related to the case, said: “You have a person who didn’t think he was entering a construction zone and had papers flying around and he bent down to get them. If he would have bent down and hit a pylon would you find him guilty of dangerous driving?”
For many of us, the answer to that question would be, and should be, yes. Because dangerous driving, regardless of what it does or doesn’t harm, is still dangerous driving. And hypothetical questions like the one posed by Dunford’s lawyer are the exact kind of attitude that is causing drivers to be so negligent in construction zones in the first place. It’s the attitude of “I won’t hit anything serious so it’s no big deal.” That’s how people like Richards, and others, are so tragically killed on our roadways each year.
It is for this reason, and so many others, why we must expect Justice Krogan to decide that there is criminal responsibility in this case. The industry needs the support of the legal system to compliment the intensified safety campaigns that governments have committed to in recent years, and the additional measures road construction companies are pursuing to heighten safety in those working conditions.
If the lawmakers get this one wrong, it will have a negative impact on the road construction industry, and its ability to protect its own.
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