In November, an Ontario judge ruled that canoes are “vessels” under Canada’s Criminal Code, confirming that they’re subject to impaired driving laws. Previously, the code had no clear definition for “vessel.” Our online article about this ruling and the related court case (an ongoing trial related to the drowning death of an eight-year-old boy) generated plenty of discussion on Facebook. You asked: does the ruling apply to other non-motorized watercraft, such as kayaks and SUPs?
The short answer is yes—but it was already illegal to operate canoes, kayaks, etc., while impaired. It’s just that the law has rarely been enforced, says Nathan Baker, a criminal lawyer. “What’s changed is that this ruling has brought the matter to the forefront,” he says. “People forget that the offences of dangerous operation, impaired operation, and operation while over the blood-alcohol limit apply to even non-motorized boats, including canoes.”
It’s unlikely that other courts would disagree with November’s ruling, Baker adds. “It is well reasoned and likely to be followed, including with regard to other vessels.” If something is used for transport or “conveyance” on the water, it’s almost certainly a vessel. The penalty for driving it while impaired is serious, starting with an immediate driver’s licence suspension.
“Anything you’re moving down the lake, don’t drink and drive that,” Baker advises, especially if your mode of transport involves paddles. “If I’m sitting on the inflatable lobster I’ve got at the cottage, I’m probably okay, but if I’m in an inflatable dinghy with oars—I’m not taking the risk.”