Court denies Ruth Burger's dangerous driving appeal
The London woman who killed two children and hurt their mother and sister while driving in a Costco parking lot has lost her appeal to have her dangerous driving convictions overturned.
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal for Ontario handed down its ruling of the appeal that was heard Nov. 22, 2016.
Ruth Burger, 67, was convicted on June 19, 2015 following the horrific crash that killed little Addison Hall, 6.
Burger was convicted of two counts of dangerous driving causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
Burger was sentenced to three years of probation, had her driver's license suspended for five years and was ordered to complete 240 hours of community service.
The July 25, 2014 crash also injured their mother Dana McKinnon-Bozek and her daughter, Miah Bozek.
McKinnon-Bozek was 8 months pregnant at the time of the incident, resulting in the death of her unborn baby, Rhiannon.
During the trial, court heard that Burger's car accelerated from 11km/h to 48km/h in the five seconds leading up to the crash, a time in which she didn't hit the brakes. She testified that she realized her foot was stuck when she was reversing out of her parking spot.
She told the court that she began wiggling her foot to try to get it out from between the brake and gas pedals when the vehicle smashed into the store doors.
The judge who presided over the case said he didn't believe Burger's foot got caught. Instead, he said he believed Burger may have created a rational explanation for what happened on the day while in a state of confusion.
Burger's lawyers argued during the appeal that the trial judge rendered an unreasonable verdict, misunderstood and misapplied the legal standard for dangerous driving, misapprehended evidence regarding her driving and the corrective actions she took.
Her team also argued that the judge engaged in impermissible speculation.
Here is the decision in its entirety:
COURT OF APPEAL FOR ONTARIO
CITATION: R. v. Burger, 2017 ONCA 101
LaForme, Rouleau and Brown JJ.A.
Her Majesty the Queen
Jill R. Presser and Andrew Menchyski, for the appellant
James V. Palangio, for the respondent
Heard: November 22, 2016
On appeal from the conviction entered on June 19, 2015 by Justice Jonathon C. George of the Ontario Court of Justice, with reasons reported at 2015 ONCJ 349.
 The appellant appeals from her conviction on two counts of dangerous driving causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
 While attempting to back out of her parking spot outside of a Costco department store, the appellant drove her car into the store’s front entrance, killing two individuals and injuring two others. The appellant asserted that she was unable to stop her car’s trajectory because her foot became stuck under the brake pedal, causing her to depress the gas pedal and to be unable to stop accelerating in reverse.
 The appellant maintains that it was a tragic accident but did not constitute a criminal offence. She argues that the trial judge rendered an unreasonable verdict, misunderstood and misapplied the legal standard for dangerous driving, misapprehended evidence regarding her driving and the corrective actions she took and, finally, engaged in impermissible speculation.
 For the reasons that follow, I would dismiss the appeal.
 At approximately noon, on July 25, 2014, the appellant exited a Costco store in London, Ontario and entered her car, which was parked in the store’s busy parking lot. Weather conditions were clear and her vehicle was in good working order.
 The appellant had parked her car in a position that required her to back out. The distance from her parking space to the front entrance of the Costco store was approximately 59 metres.
 After backing out of her parking space, the appellant did not stop and the car accelerated in reverse until it crashed into the Costco store’s front entrance. Tragically, two individuals were killed and two others were injured.
 A witness, who saw the appellant backing out of her parking spot, testified that the car reversed “unusually fast” from the parking spot.
 In her testimony at trial, the appellant confirmed that she followed her ordinary practice, which was not to hold the brake while reversing but rather to push the gas pedal lightly. She testified that when she tried to move her foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal, she realized that she could not move it because it was stuck under the brake pedal.
 In the car that she was driving, the top of the brake pedal and the top of the adjacent gas pedal were flush one to the other. The appellant could not explain how, if she had merely touched the gas pedal lightly, her foot could have become trapped under the brake pedal.
 During a period of at least five seconds, the appellant’s car accelerated towards the Costco store. She testified that during this time, she tried to wiggle her foot out from under the brake pedal but was unsuccessful. Other than steering, she did not attempt any other measures to avoid the accident. She did not press the brake pedal with her other foot, put the gear shift into neutral or park, honk the horn or turn off the ignition.
 The defence tendered a report prepared by a retired police officer who performed a simulation, which purported to show that the appellant’s account of her foot becoming wedged under the brake pedal was plausible.
 The London Police Service, who investigated the accident, obtained “crash data retrieval” (“CDR”) information from the appellant’s vehicle, which contained information as to the vehicle’s speed and engagement of the accelerator for the five seconds preceding the crash. The CDR data revealed that during the five seconds preceding the crash, the gas pedal was depressed as follows:
- 100% - 5 seconds prior to accident
- 71% - 4 seconds prior to accident
- 84% - 3 seconds prior to accident
- 97% - 2 seconds prior to accident
- 100% - 1 second prior to accident
The speed of the vehicle was as follows:
- 7mph or 11 km/hr - 5 seconds prior to accident
- 14 mph or 22 km/hr - 4 seconds prior to accident
- 22 mph or 35 km/hr - 3 seconds prior to accident
- 27 mph or 43 km/hr - 2 seconds prior to accident
- 29 mph or 46 km/hr - 1 second prior to accident
 The CDR information also indicates that the brake pedal was not depressed even slightly at any point over the eight seconds preceding the crash. (The CDR data available for brake pressure is eight seconds rather than the five for the other measures).
 The Crown argued at trial that the appellant’s explanation that her foot was caught under the brake pedal made no sense and ought to be rejected outright. In the Crown’s submission, the appellant created a very dangerous situation by reversing at high speed and, having created this dangerous situation, took no steps to correct it. The Crown’s police expert testified that the average driver requires 2.5 seconds to react once she perceives a danger and that in this case the appellant had a minimum of five seconds and did nothing.
C. The Trial Decision
 In his reasons, the trial judge acknowledged that a critical factual issue for his determination was whether the appellant’s assertion that her foot was caught under the brake pedal, preventing her from engaging the brake, was true or, at the least, raised a reasonable doubt as to her guilt. He held that, if he were to accept the appellant’s story or if it raised a reasonable doubt, he would have to acquit her of all charges.
 The trial judge, however, concluded that the appellant’s story was incapable of belief. He observed that, as noted above, the tops of the brake and gas pedals were flush with each other and that the distance from the bottom of the brake pedal to the floor was 11.4 centimetres. The appellant testified that, while driving in reverse, she twisted her body to the right to look over her shoulder. The judge noted that this would place the toe of her right foot away from the brake pedal rather than underneath it.
 Given this scenario, the trial judge rejected the appellant’s account. He simply could not accept that the appellant had carefully reversed out of her parking spot and, her foot having somehow become wedged under the brake pedal, could not be removed. This was a common sense inference he drew from all of the evidence at trial, including the appellant’s testimony.
 The trial judge also rejected the appellant’s evidence that she had taken corrective actions once she realised that her foot was caught. Her evidence that she was consciously and deliberately trying to keep the car straight was, he concluded, inconsistent with her other testimony including that she did not know how the crash occurred and that she had lost control with no ability to consider available corrective actions.
 Having rejected the appellant’s account and having concluded that it did not raise a reasonable doubt, the trial judge found that the Crown had established the actus reus of dangerous driving.
 After noting that different fault standards apply for civil negligence, criminal negligence and dangerous driving, the trial judge made several findings relevant to assessing fault. It was established that there were no contributing physical or mental ailments on the part of the appellant and no vehicle deficiencies or adverse weather conditions. The trial judge found the appellant was familiar with the Costco store’s parking lot, having been there many times. He further found that her car’s gear shift could not have been moved to the reverse position unless the appellant had previously depressed the brake. As a result, the appellant’s foot must have initially been on top of the brake before she commenced backing out of the parking spot.
 The trial judge then determined that a deliberate act by the appellant created the dangerous situation. He found that, for an unknown reason, the appellant at least once, either intentionally or while intending to slam on the brake because she was going too fast, had applied significant pressure to the gas pedal to the point that it was fully compressed all the way to the floor. In the trial judge’s view, this was the only possible way for her foot to have slid under the brake pedal, assuming that is what happened.
 Having found that the appellant created a dangerous situation, the trial judge not only rejected the appellant’s evidence that her foot was stuck, but found that, even if her foot had been stuck, several corrective actions were available to her and could have been taken during the five seconds or more during which the car accelerated towards the Costco store. The appellant could have applied the brake with her left foot, moved the gearshift from reverse to neutral or park, driven the car into a barrier or structure to avoid entering the Costco store, honked the horn, or turned off the ignition. None of these corrective actions were taken.
 In his legal analysis, at para. 49, the trial judge relied on R. v. Creighton,  3 S.C.R. 3 for the principle that, for crimes of negligence, the court is to apply the standard of “the reasonable person in all of the circumstances of the case”. At para. 51, he relied on R. v. J.F., 2008 SCC 60,  3 S.C.R. 215, for the principle that dangerous driving requires proof of a “marked departure” from the standard of care.
 Here, the appellant created a dangerous situation and was aware of the need to stop her car, yet took no corrective measures for at least the five seconds preceding the crash. Based on these findings of fact, the trial judge determined that the appellant’s conduct went beyond mere carelessness and that, in the result, the appellant was guilty of dangerous driving. The trial judge emphasized that the harm the appellant caused, though terrible, could have been much worse had her car penetrated further into the building.
 The appellant raises several issues as follows:
1. Did the trial judge misunderstand and misapply the legal standard for dangerous driving;
2. Did the trial judge misapprehend the evidence regarding the appellant’s driving behaviour and corrective actions she claims to have taken;
3. Did the trial judge engage in impermissible speculation when he rejected the appellant’s testimony as to the cause of the accident; and
4. Did the trial judge render an unreasonable verdict?
 In oral submissions, the appellant addressed all of the grounds of appeal in conjunction. In her view, the record supports only, at its highest, a finding of a momentary lapse in judgment or motor coordination and not a marked departure from the standard of care.
(1) The law
 Before dealing with the issues raised on appeal, I will briefly review the relevant jurisprudence relating to the offence of dangerous driving.
 The essential elements of the offence of dangerous driving were outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Roy, 2012 SCC 26,  2 S.C.R. 60. In that decision, Cromwell J., writing for a unanimous court, explained:
the question is whether the manner of driving which is a marked departure from the norm viewed in all of the circumstances, supports the inference that the driving was the result of a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have exhibited (para. 41).
 A momentary lapse of attention, without more, does not constitute a marked departure from the standard of care of a reasonably prudent driver and will not, therefore, constitute dangerous operation of a motor vehicle within the meaning of s. 249 of the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46: see also R. v. Beatty, 2008 SCC 5,  1 S.C.R. 49, at paras. 70-72.
 Under s. 246(1) of the Criminal Code, the actus reus of the offence is driving in a manner that, viewed objectively, is “dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place at which the motor vehicle is being operated and the amount of traffic that at the time is or might reasonably be expected to be at that place”: see Beatty, at para. 43. In Beatty, the Supreme Court also explained that, in assessing the mens rea element of the offence, the trier of fact must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt “on the basis of all the evidence, including evidence about the accused’s actual state of mind, if any, that the conduct amounted to a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the accused’s circumstances” (para. 43). Further, where the accused offers an explanation, the judge must also be satisfied “that a reasonable person in similar circumstances ought to have been aware of the risk and of the danger involved in the conduct”.
 In Roy, at para. 35, the court cautioned that “the trier of fact must not simply leap from the consequences of the driving to a conclusion about dangerousness. There must be a meaningful inquiry into the manner of driving.” While a departure from the standard of care will justify civil liability, a marked departure is necessary to justify criminal punishment. The assessment is one of degree and the lack of care found by the trial judge must be serious enough to merit punishment: see Roy at para. 28 and Beatty, at para. 48.
 When considering the mens rea element, the court applies a modified objective standard. That is, the court examines all of the circumstances and asks whether a reasonable person placed in the same circumstances would have foreseen the risk and taken steps to avoid it. The court then considers whether the accused’s failure to do so constitutes a marked departure from the standard of care expected of a reasonable person in all of the circumstances such that an inference of fault from the manner of driving is appropriate: Roy, at paras. 38-40.
(2) Did the trial judge misunderstand or misapply the legal standard for dangerous driving?
 The appellant argues that the trial judge misunderstood the mens rea required for dangerous driving and mistakenly focused only on the objective dangerousness of the appellant’s driving. In her view, the trial judge erred in not conducting a contextual foreseeability analysis to assess the degree to which, in all the circumstances, the appellant’s failure to foresee and avoid a risk deviated from the requisite standard of care. The evidence led at trial was that the average person would take approximately 2.5 seconds to perceive a danger and to react. In the appellant’s submissions, her failure to stop the vehicle for a period of five seconds because her foot was caught under the brake pedal can only be characterized as a momentary lapse in judgment or motor coordination and does not constitute the “marked departure” required to establish the offence of dangerous driving.
 I disagree. First, the trial judge did not accept the appellant’s explanation that her foot was caught under the brake pedal and could not be extracted. More importantly, the trial judge was alert to the need for a marked departure from the standard of care and referenced all of the relevant case law. He found that the appellant’s failure to react to the risk with evasive or corrective action, in the five seconds or more during which she could have reacted, rose to the level of a marked departure. As explained in Roy, what constitutes a “marked departure” is a matter of degree. The trial judge’s conclusion in this regard was reasonable and I see no basis on which to interfere.
(3) Did the trial judge misapprehend the evidence regarding the appellant’s driving behaviour and the corrective actions she claims to have taken?
 The appellant argues that the trial judge misapprehended at least two pieces of material evidence. First, he mistakenly found that the appellant had made an initial decision to press the gas pedal too hard. This was inconsistent with the evidence at trial suggesting that, initially, the appellant’s reversal was normal and appropriate. The second misapprehension relates to the trial judge’s conclusion that the appellant did not consider or attempt any evasive or corrective action. This, the appellant argues, is contrary to the evidence that the appellant was steering while reversing at a high rate of speed.
 I would not give effect to these submissions. As for the first alleged misapprehension, the trial judge found that at some point before the five seconds leading to the accident the accelerator was fully depressed, either consciously for some unknown reason or as a result of the appellant’s negligently believing it was the brake. The evidence suggesting that, initially, the appellant may have been reversing slowly from her parking spot does not undermine the judge’s finding. First, the same eyewitness who observed her initially reversing slowly also testified that the car was soon reversing unusually quickly away from the parking spot. The fact that the initial movement of the car was slow does not mean that the appellant could not have, thereafter, further depressed the accelerator. In fact, the CDR data confirms that the gas pedal was fully depressed at least five seconds before the collision.
 As for the second alleged misapprehension, the trial judge acknowledged the appellant’s evidence that she was steering and deliberately attempting to keep the vehicle straight while reversing at a high rate of speed. He gave little weight to that evidence, in light of her other evidence that she did not know how the crash occurred and that she had lost control with no ability to consider avoidance options. This was an assessment open to the trial judge. In any event, the appellant’s “steering” of a vehicle into the front entrance of a busy Costco store does not undermine the trial judge’s factual finding that the appellant took none of the several possible evasive or corrective actions available to her that would have avoided the incident.
(4) Did the trial judge engage in impermissible speculation?
 The appellant argues that the trial judge’s explanation for rejecting the appellant’s evidence that her foot became trapped under the brake pedal and could not be extracted constitutes impermissible speculation. In the appellant’s view, her explanation for getting her foot caught under the brake pedal and for her inability to remove it was both logical and consistent with the expert evidence she presented at trial. In addition, it was corroborated by the CDR data which shows the gas pedal having been depressed to varying levels in the five seconds immediately before the accident.
 I would not give effect to this ground of appeal. The trial judge’s finding that the appellant’s foot could not have become caught in the pedal array in the manner described by the appellant was reached by applying common sense and considering all of the relevant evidence led at trial. That evidence included the fact that, when the gas pedal is fully depressed, there is plenty of room beneath the brake pedal that would have allowed the appellant to easily remove her foot had it somehow slipped under the brake pedal. To this evidence is added the appellant’s evidence that she was turned to her right and looking over her shoulder while reversing. As the trial judge found, this suggests that the toe of her foot would be angled toward the vehicle’s central console and not toward the brake pedal. Finally, the expert evidence led at trial, including the reconstructive video tendered in defence, showed that a foot would be easily removed from under the brake pedal within about one second by simply tapping the gas pedal slightly, which would create ample room to remove the foot.
 In any event, the trial judge was fully cognizant of the difference between speculation and reasonable inferences. The inference drawn by the trial judge was available to him on the evidence and does not constitute reversible error.
(5) Was the verdict unreasonable?
 Under this ground of appeal, the appellant, in effect, argues that this court should accept her version of the events. As set out above, her evidence was that her foot became caught under the brake pedal and that she was not able to remove it despite trying to do so. In her view, an inability to dislodge her foot for at least five seconds is not unreasonable.
 The trial judge rejected the appellant’s evidence as to how and whether her foot became caught and her being unable to dislodge it. In my view, he gave sufficient reasons for his rejection.
 Further, based on all the evidence he did accept, the trial judge found that the appellant created a dangerous situation and took no appropriate evasive or corrective action for at least five seconds. This, in his view, constituted more than a “momentary lapse” and rose to the level of a marked departure from the requisite standard of care.
 In reaching this conclusion, the trial judge referenced all of the leading cases on the elements of the offence of dangerous driving and clearly articulated the fault element required. I see no basis on which to interfere.
 For these reasons, I would dismiss the appeal.
Released: “P.R.” February 8, 2017
“Paul Rouleau J.A.”
“I agree H.S. LaForme J.A.”
“I agree David Brown J.A.”