OPP Sgt. violates court order in trial involving death of Muskoka boy‘He came within a whisker of contempt,’ Justice Peter West
OSHAWA – A Bracebridge OPP Sgt. admitted he breached a court order in a “minor way” in an Oshawa courtroom Thursday afternoon.
Sgt. Greg Allison continued his second day of testimony in the ongoing trial of David Sillars on Thursday, Nov. 1, where Sillars has pleaded not guilty to charges of impaired operation of a vessel causing death, operation of a vessel over 80 causing death, criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation causing death. Sillars was charged on April 7, 2017 after the canoe he was operating capsized on the Muskoka River at High Falls in Bracebridge. Sillars managed to safely get himself to shore; however, the eight-year-old child with him, Thomas Rancourt of Huntsville, was found at the bottom of the falls and pronounced dead at the South Muskoka Hospital just over an hour later.
Allison was both the arresting officer and the officer who conducted the alcohol breath tests on Sillars. As such, defence counsel Jonathan Rosenthal has described the “credibility and reliability” of Allison in the case as “vital.”
Rosenthal continued his cross-examination Thursday afternoon, focusing on questions relating to Allison’s police notes, when he suddenly switched focus and inquired whom Allison was sitting with in the hallway outside the courtroom.
Allison said he was sitting with Const. Mike MacDonald, who gave his testimony earlier in the trial, and Sgt. Rowena Edey, who was slated to provide her testimony later in the day.
“And what were you talking about?” questioned Rosenthal.
“We were talking about the definition of a vessel,” said Allison.
“So you were discussing this case?” asked Rosenthal.
“No,” said Allison.
“Did you not tell them that it was an aggravating cross-examination?” asked Rosenthal, probing further.
“I said I was being harshly examined by defence, down to the minute,” said Allison.
“Sir, do you know what an exclusion of witnesses is?” asked Rosenthal.
“I don’t know who is excluded and who isn’t,” said Allison.
Allison said he discussed with MacDonald about “minor discrepancies.” When Rosenthal asked for additional details, Allison said, “Uhh – nothing specific.”
At the beginning of the trial, Justice Peter West made an order excluding witnesses, meaning witnesses - including any potential witnesses - are not permitted in the courtroom prior to giving their testimony, and are not to discuss their evidence with anyone until the trial has concluded.
At end of day on Friday, Oct. 26, Justice West told Allison of the order and asked him if he understood. Allison said yes.
Rosenthal re-read West’s order.
“Not withstanding that, you have spoken to at least two officers?” asked Rosenthal.
“I suppose – but it’s hard not to,” said Allison, to which two of Sillars’ family members present in court scoffed, while Sillars let out an audible sigh and shifted slightly in his seat.
“Even though his Honour ordered you very specifically not to speak about this case you thought, no harm, no foul, and discussed your evidence with two other officers?” asked Rosenthal again.
“It’s hard not to talk to your colleagues in a case like this,” said Allison. “We just had a minor conversation.”
“His Honour didn’t say you could have minor conversations, did he sir?” asked Rosenthal.
“No,” said Allison.
“So you breached his Honour’s order?” asked Rosenthal.
“I suppose I breached it in a way that won’t affect this trial in any way,” said Allison. “I breached it in a minor way out of excitement and being cross-examined aggressively.”
Allison then revealed he also spoke with Const. MacDonald on Sunday about the case while the two were on duty in the Sgts. office at the Bracebridge OPP detachment. He said no one else was in the office at the time.
“You are breaching this order with an officer who is beneath you?” asked Rosenthal.
“Well –” said Allison.
“You are in charge of Const. MacDonald. He reports to you, correct sir?” asked Rosenthal.
Rosenthal concluded cross-examination. Crown attorney Frank Giordano wished to ask no further questions.
Justice Peter West said his hands were tied in this “side issue” noting he “does not have all the powers that a Superior Court Judge has in terms of contempt and those types of things.”
Prior to Allison’s exit, Justice West reiterated that Allison is not to discuss the case with “your partner, your children, your best friend – anybody.”
“I am disappointed that you did not understand and did not comply with my order,” said West.
“I apologize, your Honour,” said Allison.
“Well, it’s greater than an apology, I’m afraid,” said West.
Allison attempted to explain his breach was as a result of an excitement; however, Justice West interrupted him and said “there is no such thing as excitement in a criminal case.”
“I am making it abundantly clear how disappointed I am,” said West. “How long have you been an officer?”
“Thirty years,” said Allison.
“Thirty years you’ve been an officer,” said West as he raised his eyebrows and slightly tilted his head. “You should know what an exclusion of witnesses is. I don’t have a lot of contempt powers but breach a second time and we will move down that road if necessary.”
Next on the stand was Sgt. Edey, an officer with the OPP Central Region Forensic Identification Services Unit who took photos of the scene along with evidence. Rosenthal asked no questions relating to the photographs during cross-examination and focused solely on Edey’s discussions with MacDonald and Allison as they related to the trial.
Edey said Allison “wasn’t very happy” as he felt Rosenthal was re-asking questions and “no one was stopping the line of questioning.” Edey further said there was discussion about “times” and “the location of the trauma room and the quiet room.”
Rosenthal then asked what Sgt. Allison said when he came out of the courtroom after his testimony concluded.
“He said, to use his words, he had been ‘reamed out,’ that he was one step below contempt and he couldn’t discuss it anymore,” said Edey.
Justice West denied Rosenthal’s request to recall MacDonald as a witness at that time and said he felt he would “hear more of the same.” West instructed Giordano to speak with MacDonald about not discussing the case with others.
Based on Edey’s testimony, West said he did not feel as though Allison was trying to influence her evidence, but was rather trying to assist himself in recalling evidence he was about to give the court as it related to the location of the trauma and quiet rooms in the hospital.
“I haven’t heard anything that affects anybody’s evidence other than this particular evidence,” said West. “The only person who could change their evidence is Sgt. Allison and I don’t think he did.”
Const. MacDonald was being recalled on Friday, Nov. 2 in regards to breach of the court order.https://www.muskokaregion.com/news-stor ... skoka-boy/