Family of Cornwall crash victim denied chance to face man responsible

After Kristine Cadieux died in a collision last June on Highway 401, her husband expected a chance to face the driver who caused it and deliver a victim impact statement in court. But Cadieux says he wasn't told about any court proceedings until three days after the man was sentenced.

Careless driver sentenced before Kristine Cadieux's family could deliver victim impact statement

Robert Cadieux's wife Kristine Cadieux, seen in the photo he's holding, died in June 2017 in a crash on Highway 401 west of Cornwall. The other driver pleaded guilty to careless driving and was handed a $2,000 fine before Cadieux got a chance to deliver a victim impact statement. (Susan Burgess/CBC)

A Cornwall, Ont., man whose wife was killed by a careless driver says the courts have delivered a second blow to his family by denying them the chance to face the man responsible in court.

Robert Cadieux's wife Kristine Cadieux, 32, was killed on June 28, 2017, when the couple's van was rear-ended on Highway 401 just west of Cornwall. The 20-year-old driver of the other vehicle, Felix Laframboise of Saint-Hubert, Que., was charged with careless driving.

We can't even tell him how we feel. How we feel about losing our mom, our wife. How life is empty now.- Robert Cadieux

Cadieux, 51, said police and others led him to expect that he and his three children would be able to face Laframboise in court to describe the devastation he had caused. Cadieux had been contacted by a worker from the province's Victim/Witness Assistance Program, who'd arranged a meeting for Jan. 12 where Cadieux expected to discuss the process for making a victim impact statement.

But when he showed up, Cadieux said he was shocked to be told by a party including a Crown attorney and an OPP officer that Laframboise had appeared in court three days earlier.

While there, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a $2,000 fine — all without Cadieux having been informed.

"We've been slapped in the face," said Cadieux. "We can't even tell him how we feel. How we feel about losing our mom, our wife. How life is empty now."

Kristopher is the son of Kristine Cadieux who was struck and killed by a motorist in June. 0:56

Sentencing errors alleged

Cadieux said he was also told an error had been made during Laframboise's sentencing.

During the hearing, Laframboise's driver's licence was not suspended. Suspension of up to two years is an option for careless driving convictions, as is jail time of up to six months. 

At the Jan. 12 meeting, Cadieux said he was handed an information package about victim impact statements and advised to submit one for future use, as prosecutors planned to file an appeal to bring Laframboise back to court to adjust the sentence.

Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed to CBC in a statement that "it is the Crown's intention to appeal the sentence and to request that it be varied to include the licence suspension. Further, the Crown will be requesting that the Court receive Victim Impact evidence."

But the handling of the case has shaken Cadieux's faith in the justice system, causing him to question everything from the investigation to the integrity of prosecutors.

On Thursday, the paperwork for the victim impact statement was sitting on his kitchen table, blank. Cadieux said because of his experience, he's loath to hand it over to anyone but a judge.

"They sentenced a guy behind closed doors without even our knowledge? They're not to be trusted. The Crown's office is not to be trusted," Cadieux said. "What are they going to do with my victim impact statement? Throw it in the garbage can?"

Family devastated by loss

Robert and Kristine Cadieux had been together since Kristine was 16 years old. They had three children: Kristopher, 13, Clayton, 11 and Kristina, 9.

Cadieux describes his wife as a "wonderful woman" who was fully devoted to her family and a special friend to many.

"No one ever got forgotten by Kristine. She was always the first one on the phone to make calls for birthdays," Cadieux said. "She was the glue in a lot of people's lives." 

A roadside memorial for Kristine Cadieux has been covered with snow since it was placed near Highway 401 outside Cornwall. Cadieux's family is angry the careless driver found responsible for the collision that killed her was sentenced without their knowledge. (Susan Burgess/CBC)

The couple ran a business together, K & R Signs. The morning of the collision, they were heading west to the Trenton area for work. Kristine was driving. 

Cadieux remembers slowing down as their van approached an overpass that was under construction, then making their way along a part of the highway lined with construction cones. 

Seconds later, he said, they were struck from behind. Police said at approximately 7 a.m., a Ford Focus collided with their GMC Savana, causing the van to roll over.

The next thing Cadieux remembers is waking up in the van to the voice of a young man.

"He was very distraught," Cadieux said. "He was crying out, 'Oh my God, look what I've done.' He was crying, and that's what woke me up."

The inside of the van was a gruesome, blood-spattered scene. Cadieux thought at first the blood was his. Then he caught sight of his wife's hand, reached for it and began speaking to her.

In that moment he knew that she was dead.

Husband, children kept in dark

Seven months after the collision Cadieux is still recovering from serious injuries of his own. He suffered a fractured vertebra, a concussion, whiplash and broken ribs. The injuries from the crash have left him unable to work and his sign repair business is floundering. 

"I've been a mess," Cadieux said. "Right now my physical condition is I can hardly get up … and I've got all the stress, all the worry, all the crying, all the sadness and loneliness to deal with."

I had to tell my kids, 'Listen, we have to forgive this guy.'- Robert Cadieux

As the family grieved, the investigation began. Court documents show Laframboise was charged with careless driving on July 27, approximately one month after the collision. Yet Cadieux says it wasn't until the fall that an OPP officer visited the home to inform him of the charge, as well as the official cause of the collision: Laframboise had fallen asleep at the wheel.

At the time, Cadieux said he was glad to learn police had found no evidence of impaired driving, texting or a chase involving police.

"When the officer told us that he simply fell asleep at the wheel … I had to tell my kids, 'Listen, we have to forgive this guy," Cadieux said. "But we have to tell him how we feel about him doing that, and we want an apology."

But that opportunity to face Laframboise never came. Court documents show Laframboise appeared in court twice in September and once in November. That was followed by a confidential pre-trial meeting in December with a justice of the peace and a prosecutor.

Cadieux said he wasn't informed of any of those proceedings, nor of the hearing on Jan. 9 where Laframboise pleaded guilty.

"The system is screwed," Cadieux said. "If they allow him to enter a guilty plea in a void, completely [avoiding] any confrontation with the victim's family, it's a very sick system." 

'I plead guilty, 100 per cent'

A court transcript paints a picture of what did happen in the courtroom on the day of that guilty plea.

Laframboise appeared without a lawyer before justice of the peace Louise Logue. At one point Logue noted Laframboise's mother was in the courtroom, and invited her to sit with her son. 

After pleading guilty, Laframboise opted to make a statement. In French, he said he wanted to add that he fell asleep while driving. 

"I'm very sorry for the whole family," he said. "I plead guilty, 100 per cent."

At that point, Logue asks if the Cadieux family is present.

"I don't know if the family is present," said a provincial prosecutor.

With that, the justice accepted the plea and moved on to the sentencing. The prosecutor proposed a fine of $2,000 to be paid within 18 months. Laframboise offered to pay within 30 days.

Right to make statement unclear

As upsetting as it was to miss his day in court, it turns out Robert Cadieux may have had no legal right to make a victim impact statement.

Both the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and its Ontario equivalent apply specifically to criminal cases. Careless driving is a provincial offence under the Highway Traffic Act. 

In September, the province announced legislation to create a new offence called "careless driving causing bodily harm or death" with harsher punishments including fines as high as $50,000, prison terms of up to two years and licence suspensions as long as five. But that offence also remains a Highway Traffic Act violation existing outside the Criminal Code.

Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General did not respond to a question from CBC about whether victims of Highway Traffic Act violations were entitled to make a statement.

Nevertheless, the courts do typically give victims that opportunity, according to Toronto lawyer Patrick Brown. But even then, there's a hitch.

While Felix Laframboise appeared in court himself, many defendants don't, opting instead to send a representative.

"[Families] spend months on crafting an impact statement in relation to their loved one. It's pretty draining on them, pretty emotional," said Brown. "They want to read it to the accused. And then they get there, and they're reading it to some court agent."

Lifetime of pain

Cadieux said he received a call on Friday to meet with a Crown attorney on Jan. 22 to discuss the upcoming appeal and a victim impact statement.

He's glad the case could be reopened but remains confused about the appeal process and how it's possible to sentence Laframboise twice for the same offence. 

If he does get the chance to face Laframboise in court, he knows the message he wants to deliver.

"I wanted that young man to go home and continue on with his life, but know that, hey, you can't drive when you're tired, you can't drive when you're drunk, you can't drive when you're texting, you know? You're going to kill someone," Cadieux said.

"I wanted him to know the pain he caused to my three children, to myself. I wanted him to know that it's gonna last us a lifetime."

About the Author

Susan Burgess

Associate Producer

Susan Burgess is an associate producer on CBC Radio's All In A Day. You can reach her at Susan.Burgess@cbc.ca or on Twitter @susanmburgess.