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MANDEL: Violent canoeist escapes instead of helpless child, says grieving grandmother



OSHAWA – The drowned boy's grandmother tears her heart out in a muted courtroom.

But then respectful silence breaks with a groan.

David Sillers – convicted of the drunken canoe that led to the death of eight-year-old Thomas Rancourt – returns to his chair as if watching a bad game and muttering with disgust.

And incredibly, he is still in his corner, and still supports him, despite the guilty verdicts that accuse the impaired Silars of having taken his son to the cold, raging Muskoka River, with Thomas's mother Jessica Hooper sitting.

No wonder there is so much tension in this court hearing, even as the Ontario Court of Justice Peter West begins, forcing the two warring parties to try to honor Thomas' memory as they move forward.

But there is too much anger and too much guilt here.

On April 7, 2017, 1 1/2 times the legal limit of alcohol in his system as well as marijuana, Silars took his girlfriend's son on a canoe that freezing day to retrieve a blue barrel stuck on a yellow danger barrier just above the High Falls in Bracebridge.

He ignored his friends' warnings that it was too dangerous: the spring runoff left the frigid river swollen with a strong current.

Instead, Hooper buttoned his son – an inexperienced swimmer and canoeist – in too little life jacket over three layers of clothing.

Sillers sent them to the barrier, despite all the danger signs posted.

When their canoe overturned, Thomas had sunk to his death because of stormy 15-meter falls while Silars was swimming in safety.

David Silers, left, Jessica Hooper in court in Oshawa on Thursday, August 15

Veronica Henry /

Toronto Sun.

Donna Posnikov is tormented by what must have been the last moments of her grandson's life.

"Thomas was alone, horrible, freezing and sick – for your sake, David Silers," she said in tears as she read her victim statement.

How could he ignore Thomas's cries? she demanded.

"You let him be saved," she said, anger at the heart of every word.

"We would try to save him or die when we tried."

Not only did Ponicoff complain that he lost his grandson in the tragedy, but also his daughter: the boy's mother is estranged from her entire family because she remains in contact with Silars.

To this day, Posnikoff said he could not understand his "sick, twisted, manipulative pull on my daughter Jessica."

Hooper, for her part, filed a victim impact statement describing Sylers as her best friend, who shared her grief over Thomas' death.

"Dave and I woke up to nightmares together, lingering while we cried together," she wrote.

"Sitting in the hospital, he cries and apologizes so many times."

But their future together is now delayed, she complains – as she struggles to keep custody of her youngest child and Silars is not allowed to be with him.

"We talked to him that he adopts boys. We were talking about marriage. We were talking about living together, ”she writes.

"Everything we discussed and planned is no longer an option for us."

Especially after Sillars, 40, looks at jail time.

Convicted of malfunctioning a vessel causing death by operating a vessel with more than 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood causing death, dangerous operation of a vessel causing death, and criminal negligence causing death, Silarians must spend between six and eight years bars, Crown lawyer Frank Giordano told the court.

"A child died needlessly," he said, "to retrieve the garbage floating in the river."

The court heard that Sillars had a criminal record of 15 previous convictions, including assault and express threats.

Defense lawyer Jonathan Rosenthal reminded the judge that this was the first such case in Canada – no one was convicted before of a broken canoe causing death – and called on West to sentence Silers to just two years in prison, saying he was "extremely remarkable" and suffers from mental health problems, including PTSD after the tragedy.

"There is no doubt that he did something stupid that day that led to Thomas' death," he said. "David will live with this for the rest of his life."

The judge will deliver his sentence in Bracebridge – near where Thomas died – in October.

mmandel@postmedia.com


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