‘He had his life stolen’: Grandmother of boy who died in Muskoka River ‘ecstatic’ over precedent-setting conviction
David Sillars, the man convicted of the drowning death of an eight-year-old boy from Huntsville at High Falls in Bracebridge in April 2017, is going to prison.
On July 5, Sillars’ 2019 conviction was upheld on appeal, an emotional day for Thomas Rancourt’s family.
« The day the call came in and said everything was confirmed – he’s in jail, I was ecstatic, » Donna Posnikoff, Rancourt’s maternal grandmother, said on July 7. « I was shaking, I was so happy, and then the next day – yesterday I felt drained and sad – really, really sad.
Posnikoff is happy that the man responsible for her grandson’s death is finally behind bars.
« There’s kind of a closure knowing he’s in jail, » she said. « We thought there would probably be a new trial or the appeal would be granted. »
She said that since Thomas died, the family have learned not to let their hopes grow for fear of being devastated by the outcome.
« I think that’s why the day the decision was made, I was so happy and shaky, » she said.
The decision, upheld on appeal, was released on October 4, 2019 when Sillars was found guilty of impaired operation of a vessel causing death; operating a vessel with more than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood causing death; and dangerous operation of a vessel causing death and criminal negligence causing death after he took his girlfriend’s son canoeing to the top of High Falls on the Muskoka River in Bracebridge on April 7, 2017, at a time when runoff The spring was at full force, the water levels were high, the current strong and the water temperatures described as inducing hypothermia.
It is an unprecedented case with Judge Peter C. West saying at the time that it was « the first time that charges have been brought in relation to the operation of a canoe where the individual who was driving the canoe had consumed alcohol and marijuana ».
However, Sillars filed a motion with the appeals court and was released on $1,500 bail the same day.
« Even when we’re happy and doing things as a family, we all have this cloud above our heads that will last forever, » Posnikoff said. “He was eight years old. I am the grandmother. He should have been at my funeral, not the other way around. He should have been allowed to grow.
It pains him to think of Sillars swimming to shore leaving young Thomas to fend for himself against the cold water and strong current, wearing a life jacket too small for his size.
Posnikoff sees the value of the court sentencing and although she does not think the six-year sentence is long enough, there is now a precedent for police enforcement and, during the hearing out of this matter, she hopes people will be more obedient when it comes to drinking and boating, especially with a child in their care. She compares an inebriated Sillars canoeing near the buoys atop High Falls Dam during spring freshet to « putting your kid on Highway 11 and saying, ‘Go ride a bike.' »
« Six years from now, if Sillars does serve the six years, he could get out, he could apply for parole, » she said, « He’ll get out and he’ll go home. » When is Thomas coming home?
Thomas would have turned 13 in February and Posnikoff thinks of all the things his grandson will never do. He studied French Immersion at Riverside Public School in Huntsville. He loved school and had a thirst for knowledge and when she sees the young boy’s friends she often finds herself staring at them awkwardly thinking of what Thomas would be like at that age.
« Not a day goes by that we don’t think about Thomas and what he would have been like, » she said. « I was robbed of his life, he was robbed of a life and I fear he will be forgotten. »
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. Simcoe Muskoka Family Connections offers 24/7 service. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, report it immediately by calling 1-800-461-4236. The Child and Youth Mental Health Crisis Line is 1-844-287-9072.