The criminal charges laid against the Calabogie bar server which The Current reported on April 1 2019 has resulted in considerable media coverage and public comment. The Eganville Leader made it its lead story and added an editorial about it on April 3. It reported that a GoFundMe campaign has been started in order to raise $50,000 to help with the accused’s legal defence. As of April 7 the sum of $49,120 had been pledged. Additional reports discussing the fundraising campaign disclose that the accused, Ann Senack, did serve the victims of the crash that claimed two lives. These have been accompanied by character references highlighting her contributions to the community and previous unblemished record at Shooter’s Bar and Grill.
A conviction of Criminal Negligence Causing Death carries a penalty of up to ten years in jail. The fact that these serious charges have been laid seventeen months (not eighteen as The Current originally reported) after the accident does invite questions. Based on the few reported examples of similar charges, the prosecution faces an uphill task in securing a conviction. In 2002 the same charges were laid against a bar owner in Windsor. News reports at the time stated that it appeared to be the first ever attempt to invoke the criminal law to that extent. “We have never laid charges like this and haven’t been able to find anyone else in Ontario has laid charges in such a case,” said the Windsor staff sergeant at the time. Those charges were eventually withdrawn, the Crown saying there was no prospect of a conviction.
More recently in 2012 the owner/operators of the Angry Beaver Bar located near Belleville were charged, in addition to Criminal Negligence Causing Death, the offence of Unlawful Act Manslaughter. This followed a patron of the bar being involved in a head on collision with another vehicle on Highway 401 having driven westbound in the eastbound lanes. The collision occurred on the Monday morning following Super Bowl Sunday and there had been evidence that the patron had attended a party at the bar celebrating the game. The celebration carried through the night as, with other patrons, she stayed at the bar after closing time. The collision occurred shortly after she had left the bar between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. the next morning. At a Preliminary Hearing, the charges were dismissed by an Ontario Court Judge, after he found that there was no evidence that would permit a properly-instructed jury to find that the defendants had acted with the high degree of negligence required to sustain a conviction.
The Judge, however, did add the significant caveat that had there been evidence of interaction between the owners and the patron, the owners may have been committed to stand trial. Perhaps those prosecuting Ms. Senack have evidence that supports such a finding. Absent that, the OPP may be exposing itself to allegations of prosecutorial overcharging. The Current reached out to the OPP seeking further information but was told that none would be provided in light of the pending charges.
Whatever the outcome, the case does constitute a further warning to the hospitality industry that not only is it exposed to civil liability resulting from harm caused by its patrons, but also exposure to very serious criminal offences as well. The judicial approach is probably best summed up by the statement made in one case by an Ontario court of Appeal Judge, “A pied piper cannot plead his inability to take care of his followers when it was he who played the flute.”
Photo: Renfrew Mercury