How Is Conveyance Defined Within the Criminal Code?

The Various Sections of the Criminal Code That Address Drinking and Driving Actually State Operation of a Conveyance Which Includes Motor Vehicles, Watercraft, Aircraft, and Railway Equipment.

Understanding the Meaning of Conveyance As Such Relates to Various Laws Involving Impairment By Alcohol or Drugs

Definition of Conveyance Includes Motor Vehicles, Vessels, Aircraft, and Railroad Equipment The phrases driving under the influence ("dui") and driving while intoxicated ("dwi") are commonly used terms that are generally referred to as relating to drinking and driving; however, the relevant law is actually much broader and involves the operation of a conveyance which includes much more than just drinking and driving of an automobile.

The Law

The Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, prescribes impaired operation of a conveyance as an offence as well as defines the term conveyance whereas it states:

Impaired operation

320.14 (1) Everyone commits an offence who

(a) operates a conveyance while the person’s ability to operate it is impaired to any degree by alcohol or a drug or by a combination of alcohol and a drug;

(b) subject to subsection (5), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration that is equal to or exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood;

(c) subject to subsection (6), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood drug concentration for the drug that is prescribed by regulation; or

(d) subject to subsection (7), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration and a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood alcohol concentration and the blood drug concentration for the drug that are prescribed by regulation for instances where alcohol and that drug are combined.

Operation causing bodily harm

(2) Everyone commits an offence who commits an offence under subsection (1) and who, while operating the conveyance, causes bodily harm to another person.

Operation causing death

(3) Everyone commits an offence who commits an offence under subsection (1) and who, while operating the conveyance, causes the death of another person.


320.11 The following definitions apply in this Part.


conveyance means a motor vehicle, a vessel, an aircraft or railway equipment. 


As stated within the Criminal Code, a conveyance means much more than just a car or truck as common automobiles whereas a conveyance is defined as to also include:

  • A motor vehicle, such as a motorcycle, a moped, a snowmobile, an all terrain vehicle (ATV), etc.;
  • A vessel, such as a boat (motorized or otherwise), a canoe, a raft, and perhaps even inflatables, etc.;
  • An aircraft, such as an airplane, a helicopter, a hot air balloon, etc.; and
  • A railway equipment item, such as a locomotive, a gondola that moves along tracks, etc.

As per the case of R. v. Sillars, 2022 ONCA 510, it was confirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal that a broad interpretation of conveyance applies; and in the Sillars case, the interpretation included a canoe as a vessel and thereby as a conveyance. When reviewing where to include a canoe as a vessel, and thereby as a conveyance, the court stated:

Statutory interpretation

[43]  The words of an Act are to be interpreted in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act and the intention of Parliament. Section 12 of the Interpretation Act further provides that every enactment is deemed remedial and “shall be given such fair, large and liberal construction and interpretation as best ensures the attainment of its objects”. Statutory interpretation requires attention to text, context, and purpose.

[44]  With respect to textual analysis, dictionaries can be a useful tool in statutory interpretation, but where – as here – a word might have narrower and broader meanings, a dictionary cannot resolve which meaning was intended by Parliament: Ruth Sullivan, Sullivan on the Construction of Statutes, 7th ed. (Markham: LexisNexis, 2022, at § 3.03.) While some dictionary definitions of “vessel” refer to size, others include any watercraft capable of transportation on water, and still others just say boat. For example, Merriam-Webster defines canoe as “a light narrow boat” and boat is “a small vessel for travel on water”.

[45]  In determining whether Parliament intended a broader meaning of vessel that includes canoe, it is significant that the French version of s. 254(2) in effect uses the word for boat - “bateau”:

L’agent de la paix qui a des motifs raisonnables de soupçonner qu’une personne a dans son organisme de l’alcool ou de la drogue et que, dans les trois heures précédentes, elle a conduit un véhicule — véhicule à moteur, bateau, aéronef ou matériel ferroviaire … [Emphasis added.]

[46]  It is uncontroversial that vessel and boat are synonymous in the context of s. 254(2).  It is similarly uncontroversial that boat, in its ordinary meaning, carries no particular connotation of size, and that a canoe is a boat.

[47]  The text of s. 254(2) thus suggests that canoe comes within the intended meaning of vessel. An analysis of the purpose or object of the enactment confirms this reading.  The object of the enactment is to protect the public from the consequences of impaired operation of conveyances on the water. The scheme and object of the Act is clearly to address the public safety issue of impaired conveyances on the road and on the water. Impairment creates risks to passengers of a canoe, other watercraft, swimmers and first responders. Unlicensed conveyances, non-muscular-powered vessels and sailboats pose a risk of injury and death just as licensed and motor-powered conveyances do. The risks are not restricted to vessels that are required to be licensed.

Further indicia of legislative intent

[48]  The appellant’s submissions ignore significant indicia of legislative intent in the legislative context.

[49]  The word “vessel” is used several times in the legislation. There is no qualifier as there is where “vehicle” is qualified by “motor” (see e.g., ss. 253(1), 249(1) and 254(2)). Had the legislature sought to limit liability to exclude muscle-powered vessels or non-licensed conveyances, it would have done so. The legislation is remedial and is to be interpreted broadly.

[50]  With respect to dangerous operation, the legislature included “water skis, surf-board, water sled or other towed object” in s. 249(1). Clearly, they are not motorized or licensed conveyances.

[51]  There is no ambiguity left after considering these components. I conclude that a canoe is a vessel within the meaning of s. 254(2).

It is notable that the Sillars case related to a canoeing incident which occurred in April 2017 and referred to sections of the Criminal Code that were repealed and replaced by new sections; however, it is necessary to appreciate that the reasonings given for the decision outcome would surely apply to the new sections of the Criminal Code.

Summary Comment

Drinking and driving laws apply to much more than just the driving of an automobile upon a roadway while impaired by alcohol.  What are known as the drinking and driving laws actually apply to the operation of a conveyance.  A conveyance is defined as various motor vehicles including motorcycles and snowmobiles.  A conveyance also includes vessels as all forms of watercraft regardless of whether the watercraft is motorized as well as aircraft and also railway equipment.

Learn About - Definition of Operation

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