A Grey Highlands farmer found guilty of criminal negligence causing death in a skid steer mishap that killed his four-year-old son is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 8.
Emanuel Bauman, who was 32 when his son Steven suffered a fatal head injury when he fell out of the bucket of the skid steer Bauman was operating last Aug. 31, was in court in Owen Sound on Tuesday for sentencing submissions. It is believed to be the first time in Canada that a person has been convicted of criminal negligence causing the death of his child in a farm accident.
Ontario Court Justice Julia Morneau held off on sentencing Bauman until Aug. 8 so she could consider all the information provided in the case. Morneau added that she didn’t want to leave it much longer, and also didn’t want to deliver her decision too close to the Aug. 31 anniversary of the boy’s death. She said it was a “delicate issue” and called Bauman a victim as well.
“This is difficult for everyone, in particular Mr. Bauman, his wife and their five children,” Morneau said.
In her written decision released on May 15, Morneau wrote that on the day of the incident, two of Bauman’s children, Steven, 4, and Luke, 7, were standing in the bucket of the skid steer.
Bauman, an experienced farmer and skid steer operator, was building a laneway on his farm. He was using the skid steer to pull a trailer full of wood chips. With the machine in motion the trailer tipped and dumped the woodchips onto the laneway. He was looking back at the trailer as it dropped its load and Bauman didn’t see Steven fall out, Morneau wrote.
Bauman “has always accepted full moral responsibility for his son’s death. The issue is whether Mr. Bauman is criminally responsible for his son’s death,” she wrote.
Bauman pleaded not guilty but called no witnesses and conceded everything in the Crown disclosure: photos, the autopsy report and his statements to police.
After reviewing the case and weighing Bauman’s actions and intentions, Morneau concluded she must convict.
Grey County Crown attorney Peter Leger and defence lawyer Doug Grace made their submissions Tuesday. Leger said no case similar to the one before the court could be found in Canada, while Grace admitted the two sides were far apart on a recommended sentence.
Leger recommended a jail sentence of two years less a day, three years probation and a driving prohibition of 10 years, while Grace argued for a suspended sentence with two or three years of probation, along with other conditions such as speaking to others in the community about farm safety.
The whole time, Bauman sat quietly next to Grace, his wife looking on from the back of the courtroom.
Morneau said she looked for reported criminal law decisions in which a child had died on a farm and she couldn’t find any in Canada. She added that she did not search U.K. or American databases.
In his submissions, Leger outlined three past cases involving criminal negligence causing death convictions, all involving vehicles on roadways.
In those cases there were aggravating factors, including alcohol consumption, speeding, running a red light, racing and multiple victims. The sentences handed down included two years in jail, probation of three years and driving prohibitions ranging from 15 years to a lifetime ban.
Leger said in the case of Bauman the lone aggravating factor was that Bauman was driving recklessly for a period of time. The incident occurred on the fourth trip of the day with the boys in the skid steer.
“Ultimately we have some reckless driving over a period of time that involved the death of a young boy,” Leger said.
He said in the cases he highlighted a prominent sentencing principle was deterrence and sending a message to others.
Morneau said she was struggling to understand who would be deterred in the case before her, and Leger argued that it would be like-minded people in society, including anybody operating a skid steer or other farm equipment.
Grace argued that there was no statutory purpose to jail Bauman and if deterring “like-minded farmers” was a principle in the sentencing, then the conviction alone had accomplished that.
He said Bauman has made positive changes to enhance safety on his property since the death, has always accepted responsibility for his actions and argued there were no aggravating factors in the case.
He said the vast majority of cases he reviewed involved speeding vehicles or other aggravating factors and the results were suspended sentences.
“The facts in this case just fit a suspended sentence to a T,” Grace said, adding there were no alcohol or other intoxicants involved, there were no high speeds, there was complete co-operation with the authorities, complete and genuine remorse and an acceptance of responsibility.
Grace added that if Bauman had to go to jail he would suggest an intermittent sentence of 30 to 60 days followed by probation.
Bauman doesn’t possess a driver’s licence, has a business to run and is the breadwinner for the family, he noted.
“He is already serving a life sentence of grief and a life sentence of sadness I suspect will be with him as long as he is with us,” Grace said.