Criminalisation: A Case History

Despite the rising number of reports coming in from around the World regarding the criminalisation of seafarers in general and pilots in particular there are still many pilots who believe themselves to be invincible and consider legal defence insurance unnecessary !

The annual insurance premium request will be landing on your doormat as you read this article so if any of you have any lingering doubts as to the need for cover I suggest that you carefully read the following article reproduced from The Canadian Pilot magazine. It is an alarming account of the lengths that prosecutors will attempt to go to in order to satisfy the public’s hysterical call for a scalp following any maritime  incident.

Yes. It could happen here!


The Quebec Court of Appeal put an end to the legal proceedings against pilot Jacques Cloutier on 25 February when it turned down a motion for leave to appeal presented by the Crown. It had been with some disbelief that Canadian Maritime Pilots’ Association CMPA) members received the news, last December, that the Crown was seeking permission to appeal a Quebec Superior Court decision rendered a month prior, which confirmed the verdict of the Quebec Court acquitting pilot Cloutier of all charges laid against him in connection with a marine incident that occurred in 2004.

It had come somewhat as a surprise that 

the Crown would present, for a third time, arguments that had already been considered and categorically rejected twice before by tribunals, in careful and rigorous decisions. “The Court of Appeal’s decision puts an end to this judicial saga and it is a great relief. We hope that no Canadian pilot will ever again have to experience the hardship related to both such an accident and the proceedings that followed,” said . Capt. Bernard Boissonneault, CMPA Vice-

President, Laurentian Region, and President of the Corporation of Mid St. Lawrence Pilots of which Jacques Cloutier is a member.

In the early morning of 11th August 2004, the container vessel Canada Senator, which Capt. Cloutier was piloting, collided with he pleasure craft Mondisy, in the narrow navigation channel near Saint-Nicolas, on the St. Lawrence River close to Quebec City. After the collision, the Mondisy sank and two of its four passengers died. Following the accident, Capt. Cloutier was charged with three penal infractions, the Crown      alleging that he failed to take effective

action to avoid a collision. The courts, for their part, noted the erratic behaviour of the Mondisy – specifically its zigzags across the navigation channel and the lack of response to the Canada Senator’s signals – and the shortcomings of the Crown’s expert evidence before concluding that Capt. Cloutier had shown all reasonable due diligence under the circumstances to avoid a collision.

Over the last few years, a trend toward

prosecuting marine personnel involved in incidents – pilots and others – has emerged in all parts of the world. At the same time, new legislation diminishing the burden of proof incumbent on the plaintiff in certain situations and increasing the number of strict liability offenses (in which liability can be imposed on a party without a finding of fault or lack of due diligence) has increasingly been enacted.

These trends raise significant concern within the marine community. As is the case in any responsible sector and in areas where the public interest is concerned, it is only normal that any lack of due diligence which can result in accidents be severely sanctioned.

But attempting to criminalize the behaviour of those who acted with due diligence can only discourage individuals from entering marine professions – at a time when the sector needs labour – and may lead to excessive caution, ultimately harming the efficiency of marine transportation.

The official report is on the web at:


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