A very long time ago when the earth was  young I successfully defended a chap charged with impaired driving. The defence rested  upon the rather unique vehicle he was driving at the time of his arrest- a railway hand cart.

My client had acquired the  handcart at an auction, and tested it out (without permission) on a section of  the E&N railway track, finding that it still worked like a top. A few pumps on the handles and he was sailing down the track.

To celebrate, he invited a couple of buddies on board and they pumped the contraption down to the Red Lion Inn, a pub conveniently  located adjacent to the railway tracks, where they proceeded to get drunk as lords, and, on the return trip, attracted the attention of the Victoria constabulary.

The acquittal  was achieved because of the particular wording of the impaired driving sections of the Criminal Code. The offence, you see,  can only be committed by driving a motorized vehicle, and a hand -pumped  railway cart  simply doesn’t fit the definition!

Those same provisions of the Criminal Code apply to impaired boating, but, oddly,  until now, contain no definition of what constitutes a “vessel”, leaving it an open question whether you can legally paddle your canoe or kayak while ( to use a nautical reference ) you are three sheets to the wind. In the result, and depending upon where you live, some tipsy canoeists end up being charged, while others aren’t.

So, in the Spring of 2017, along came Bill C-46, legislation amending and modernizing the Criminal Code, including a re-vamp of the impaired driving provisions. The term “vehicle” was scrapped, in favour of the term “conveyance”, which the Minister (no doubt still smarting from my long ago hand cart win) sneakily defined as including railway equipment of all sorts.

The definition continued however, to specifically exempt  “a vessel propelled exclusively by muscular power”. To the great relief of a few of my paddling buddies, it appeared that tipsy canoeing and kayaking were to become legal.

In fairness, I suspect what the drafters of the legislation had in mind was exempting those who paddle inner tubes and  air mattresses, or inflatable party rafts a few feet off the beach with beer in hand, but definitions are tricky.

Before the champagne corks could even be popped down at the paddling club, the Stalwarts at the Canadian Safe Boating Council had a word in the Minister’s ear, and an amendment was swiftly proposed, and unanimously passed, tanking the exemption, and leaving us again without a definition   of “vessel”

This, unfortunately  puts us right back in the grey area that existed before. If it floats, you might  get tagged for drunk boating- something you may want to think about the next time you are lounging around on a pool noodle with a cold one in hand.