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Judge to rule on contentious dangerous driving case

Accused insisted police officers had put themselves in harm's way
2018-05-23 Sault Ste. Marie Court House DH (1)
File photo. Sault Ste. Marie Court House. David Helwig/SooToday

Tim Coderre took the witness stand last week to tell a judge his version of the encounter he had with two city police officers in the summer of 2021.

The 61-year-old self-represented accused has pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving stemming from an incident that occurred at the Bruce Street Beer Store.

His testimony Thursday was confrontational, peppered with anger, and often delivered in a raised voice, amid allegations that he was being targetted by the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service.

At one point during cross-examination by prosecutor Blair Hagan, the judge chastised Coderre.

"There is no reason to yell," Ontario Court Justice Dana Peterson told him. "I know you are frustrated, (but) answer the questions with a respectful volume and tone."

Minutes before that, Coderre had jumped up from the witness stand, and ran quickly towards the defence side of the counsel table, located a few feet away, and pushed it with enough force to move it.

"From your perspective you thought that is what the officers were doing?" Peterson asked him.

Coderre agreed, maintaining the officers had run into the path of his van during the June 29 2021 incident.

"I had one choice, move out of the way or hit them," he said.

The accused had left the witness stand, when he was being questioned by the Crown about whether that was when he had stepped on the gas.

"They wanted Tim Coderre at all cost," he said.

On Jan. 12, the first day of the trial, the court heard testimony from the two officers who had responded to a call about unknown trouble at the Beer Store and a "highly agitated" customer who was refusing to wear a mask.

They described Coderre as belligerent, and told the court he was calling one of them names.

When they indicated he could leave the parking lot, he put the van in gear, revved it at a high rate of speed, placing it between two police vehicles.

Coderre then shifted into drive and again accelerated.

One of the officers had to "jump back" to get out of his way.

When he testified, Coderre said he had made arrangements with the Beer Store manager to do transactions outside the store because he had a medical exemption for not wearing a mask.

He said he had done this on numerous occasions.

On that day, he was returning empties when an employee told him he couldn't make a purchase.

Coderre said he showed the woman the Algoma Public Health COVID guidelines, indicating "I was complying to everything by the book."

He told Peterson the officers had parked their vehicles in a manner "so they could feign an emergency" to claim "I left at an excessive rate of speed."

The accused insisted he is a "very good" safe driver and when he put his van in reverse, his speed was a maximum five to seven kilometres per hour.

"I realized what they were doing. Tim Coderre understood what to do. He did it safely and no cars were hit."

There was no excessive speed, he said, maintaining the police "don't like me" and "targetted me."

Const. Bryan Greco, the officer he is accused of nearly hitting, "was putting himself at risk so he could make up a fairy tale," Coderre testified.

During cross-examination by the Crown, he admitted he was upset.

"You were angry," Hagan suggested.

"Why wouldn't I be, of course I was."

He said he knew what the officers were up to that day.

"Tim Coderre outsmarted them. Tim Coderre avoided an accident," he told the court. 

"I turned sharply to avoid them."

The accused disagreed that if Greco hadn't jumped out of the way he would have struck the officer.

He insisted the officers had put themselves in harm's way, "baiting a situation."

Coderre said he has a clear conscience.

"I did everything safely," he maintained. "They didn't have a case so they made one up."

During her closing argument, Hagan said Coderre's operation of his vehicle was a marked departure from what a reasonably prudent driver would do.

A reasonable person would not have quickly accelerated with the officers in front of him. 

Such a person would have reversed, stopped and waited for the officers to move or to at least see where they were going, the assistant Crown attorney said.

"There were other options," she suggested.

"He was angry, frustrated and let it get the best of him."

Coderre's driving was a real risk to others in the parking lot and those lined up in front of the store, and definitely an absolute risk to the officer.

Police officers put themselves in harm's way every day, Hagan said.

"Mere moments could have had catastrophic circumstances for the officers, especially Const. Greco."

In his closing submission, Coderre suggested if the officers were concerned about safety, they should have ensured there was a pathway for him to leave, but instead they walked towards his van.

He said he was backing up, and when he looked forward "they were there and I swerved."

These officers intentionally put themselves in harm's way, he argued. "There was no reason, zero reason for them to be in that lane."

He wasn't driving at a high rate of speed, Coderre said, adding "I did what I did for safety reasons and nobody got hurt."

The accused told the judge if this happened again today, "I totally would do it again."

What the officers did wasn't reasonable, he said, calling their actions "deceitful.

Peterson adjourned her decision to Feb. 7.

About the Author: Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is a freelance journalist who has been covering Sault Ste. Marie's courts and other local news for more than 45 years.
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