“Félix-Antoine should never have died that day” This is the cry from the heart launched on Tuesday by the mother of the young motorcyclist killed in 2019 by a driver who wanted to go around ducks. If the Crown is asking for 8 months in prison, the defense is only asking for six months in house arrest.
Relatives of Félix-Antoine Gagné delivered moving testimonies on Tuesday during the hearings to determine the imposition of the sentence for Éric Rondeau at the Joliette courthouse. The 48-year-old was found guilty by a jury of dangerous driving causing death last January. He appealed the verdict.
“Since this tragedy, my heart is in pieces. Even though it’s 2023, the pain hasn’t gone away and never will. He had his life ahead of him. I would never have the pleasure of seeing the beautiful adult he would have become and that of becoming a grandmother,” Linda Poulette told the court. The 19-year-old’s mother described her son as “smart, polite, naughty [and who] loved to make people around him laugh”.
On July 22, 2019, Éric Rondeau stopped in a bend on route 345, near Joliette, to let a family of ducks cross the road. A few seconds later, he decided to drive around the birds by driving in the opposite lane.
However, his Ford F-150, which was towing a pontoon trailer, ended up completely in the wrong direction, while traveling at very low speed. It was then that Félix-Antoine Gagné arrived in the other direction. Due to the configuration of the road, the young motorcyclist realized too late that a vehicle was in his lane.
The thesis of the simple accident raised by the defense was not accepted by the jury. Éric Rondeau argued that he had fixed his rear view mirror during the entire maneuver to circumvent the ducks for fear of being run over by a vehicle behind him.
The defense lawyer did everything on Tuesday to minimize the gesture committed by his client. “We are getting very, very close to the accident. Pure and simple accident. What remains is strictly the mistake he made of stepping forward to avoid the ducks. We are very, very close to the accident,” insisted Me Richard Dubé.
On the contrary, it is neither a “simple error in judgment” nor a “simple inattention”, but a “dangerous” maneuver, argued the Crown prosecutor, Me Alexandre Dubois. “It’s a serious error in judgment that we decided to criminalize,” replied Judge Marc-André Blanchard.
The prosecution is asking for an 8-month prison sentence, but above all a five-year driving ban, which is particularly high. In such matters, sentences are generally between 12 and 36 months. This “sentence range” is even set to increase, since since 2018 the maximum sentence for this crime has increased from 14 years to life imprisonment.
“The message could hardly be clearer. The legislator wanted the penalties to be increased. But I would not plead to you that Mr. Rondeau is a highwayman. He has no history. It was literally Monsieur, Madame Everybody who was driving and who made an error in judgment which turned out to be criminal,” pleaded Me Dubois.
The only aggravating factor, according to the Prosecution, is the fact that the accused was driving a “large vehicle”, an aggravating circumstance listed in the Criminal Code. With the trailer it was dragging, the Éric Rondeau convoy was 15.7 meters long, argued the prosecutor.
But for defense, it is not a “big vehicle”, but rather a “tall” or a “long” vehicle. The judge will have to settle this important semantic debate. “The legislator said ‘big’. No one has defined it. I’ll stick to it, and we’ll see the result, “said the judge.
A new law passed by the federal government (C-5) – which aimed to tackle the disproportionate representation of Indigenous and Black people in prison – recently opened the door to the imposition of a house jail sentence ( conditional sentence) for the offense of dangerous driving causing death. That’s why the defense is asking for a 6-month suspended sentence.
“That would be extremely leniency,” replied Mr. Dubois, insisting that the stay should be granted “exceptionally”.
The judge will make his decision at the end of May.