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News Release

SIU Concludes Investigation into Vehicle Death near Parry Sound

Case Number: 12-PVD-100

Mississauga (5 June, 2012) --- The Acting Director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Joseph Martino, has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to charge any Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer with a criminal offence in relation to the death of 38-year-old Liza Charbonneau in April of 2012.

The SIU assigned four investigators, two forensic investigators and a collision reconstructionist to probe the circumstances of this incident.  As is her legal right, the subject officer declined an SIU request for an interview.  Six witness officers and seventeen civilian witnesses were interviewed.

The SIU investigation found that the following events took place on Sunday, April 8:
• Just before midnight, an officer attempted to pull Ms. Charbonneau over to investigate her driving.  She initially stopped for the officer, but proceeded to speed away in a grey Mazda 3, prompting the officer to initiate a pursuit southbound on Highway 69.  In the area of Murdock River north of the French River Bridge, the officer observed Ms. Charbonneau’s vehicle veer into the northbound lane and nearly collide head-on with an oncoming vehicle, resulting in that vehicle having to take evasive action to avoid a collision.  The subject officer deactivated her emergency equipment and pulled to the side of the road, intending to check on the well-being of the occupant/s of the northbound vehicle.  She advised the communications centre accordingly. 
• A number of OPP officers in the area then began to patrol Highway 69 looking for Ms. Charbonneau’s Mazda.  An officer spotted the vehicle and began to follow it at a distance without his vehicle’s emergency equipment activated.  Acting on instructions from a supervising sergeant, he eventually pulled up behind the Mazda and turned on his emergency lights.  Ms. Charbonneau slowed, activated her right turn signal and began to pull to the right shoulder.  However, before the officer could maneuver the cruiser in front of the Mazda, Ms. Charbonneau again accelerated and sped southbound on Highway 69. 
• Across the southbound lane of the highway, near Moose Lake Lodge, police deployed a spike belt.  Ms. Charbonneau was able to avoid going over the spike belt by veering into the northbound lane as she travelled by it.  Officers continued to pursue the vehicle, but terminated the pursuit as Ms. Charbonneau accelerated south on Highway 69 and the officers lost sight of the vehicle.  They deactivated their emergency lighting and slowed their vehicles. 
• Parked near the highway in the hamlet of Point au Baril was another officer.  After observing the Mazda traveling at a high rate of speed, he activated his emergency lights and took up the chase.  He too abandoned the pursuit when he lost sight of the vehicle.
• Meanwhile, a spike belt had been laid in the southbound lane of the highway near Shebeshekong Road.  As well, a police SUV and cruiser were positioned in the northbound lane and shoulder of the highway.  Traffic was being directed off the roadway and into a parking lot.
• Upon approaching Shebeshekong Road, Ms. Charbonneau veered into the northbound lane of Highway 69 to avoid the spike belt.  In so doing, she broadsided the OPP SUV, causing it to flip.  The SUV clipped the nearby cruiser, and then struck an officer, sending him hurtling down the roadway some 30 metres and causing injury to the officer. 
• The reconstruction of the collision suggests Ms. Charbonneau was traveling somewhere between 151 to 221 km/h at the point of impact with the SUV.  She died as the result of traumatic injuries sustained during the collision. 

Acting Director Martino said, “There are no reasonable grounds, in my view, to believe that the subject officer, or any other OPP officers, committed a criminal offence in connection with this motor vehicle incident.  From the initial pursuit to the collision, the incident lasted about 50 minutes across 73 kilometres.  The question that arises for consideration is whether the officers exercised an appropriate level of care during this time.  In the criminal context, more specifically, can it be said that the officers’ driving was “dangerous” pursuant to section 249 of the Criminal Code, or, for purposes of a criminal negligence analysis, constituted a marked departure from a reasonable level of care in the circumstances?  I am satisfied on reasonable grounds that the conduct in question did not transgress either threshold.  Not only was Ms. Charbonneau driving in a reckless manner, officers learned that she was disqualified from driving for medical reasons.  This, no doubt, would have heightened the officers’ concern for the safety of motorists on the highway and, in my view, justified their continued efforts to apprehend the vehicle and its driver.  Active pursuits were again started and then discontinued by the officers as Ms. Charbonneau accelerated on each occasion to very high speeds.  Here, again, it is clear that the officers were cognizant of their overriding duty to public safety, reacting in kind whenever it appeared that continued pursuit was contributing to Ms. Charbonneau’s dangerous driving.”

Acting Director Martino continued, “The decision by an officer to lay a second spike belt near Shebeshekong Road and station his vehicle across the northbound lane may arguably be criticized in light of the fact that Ms. Charbonneau had moments earlier demonstrated she was willing and able to avoid a spike belt by driving onto the northbound lane.  True to form, she veered into the northbound lane as she approached the spike belt at Shebeshekong Road, striking a police vehicle at high speed, causing her own death and the injuries to an officer.  On the other hand, the officers had information to believe that she was unfit to drive for medical reasons and that her continued presence on the road constituted a real threat to the safety of the driving public.  In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the decision to deploy another spike belt constituted a reasonable tactic.  It is also important to note that the positioning of police vehicles on the highway, and the directing of traffic into the parking lot of a nearby service station, were successful in preventing northbound motorists from venturing unwittingly into the danger zone around the spike belt.”  

The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must

  • consider whether an officer has committed a criminal offence  in connection with the incident under investigation
  • depending on the evidence, lay a criminal charge against the officer if appropriate or close the file without any charges being laid
  • report the results of any investigations to the Attorney General. 

Monica Hudon, monica.hudon@ontario.ca
SIU Communications/Service des communications, UES
Telephone/No de téléphone: 416-622-2342 or/ou 1-800-787-8529 extension 2342