Ice fishing in Canada? You could face manslaughter charges
Yes, you could face manslaughter charges when ice fishing in Canada. This is one of the more serious charges under the Canadian Criminal code. Drilling a hole in the ice is a necessary precursor to the ice fishing experience, but it must be done in such a way to prevent injuries to others. According to Section 263 of the criminal code:
Every one who makes or causes to be made an opening in ice that is open to or frequented by the public is under a legal duty to guard it in a manner that is adequate to prevent persons from falling in by accident and is adequate to warn them that the opening exists.
Every one who leaves an excavation on land that he owns or of which he has charge or supervision is under a legal duty to guard it in a manner that is adequate to prevent persons from falling in by accident and is adequate to warn them that the excavation exists.
Every one who fails to perform a duty imposed by subsection (1) or (2) is guilty of
(a) manslaughter, if the death of any person results therefrom;
(b) an offence under section 269, if bodily harm to any person results therefrom; or
(c) an offence punishable on summary conviction.
The code also gives direction on the duties and responsibilities of the angler to "guard" the excavation to prevent anyone from falling in and the consequences of failure to secure the hole and prevent injury to others. Anglers could face charges including manslaughter, if death or injury occurs.
While most fishermen agree that it is very difficult for anyone to fall through the narrow hole in the ice, it is imperative that ice fishermen take all the necessary precautions outlined in the code. In Alberta, for example, some groups, like the Alberta Conservation Association have scaled back its practice of aerating shallow lakes
Posting warning signs of potential danger is not sufficient to avoid liability. Ice fishermen are required to put in place adequate security measures to prevent any danger to the public. Those who use Ice fishing huts may get away with drilling larger holes provided that the hut is locked when not in use. While reports of people falling through ice fishing holes are rare as is prosecution of anglers in this regard, it is better to err on the side of caution. If you drill a hole or holes for ice fishing, it is your responsibility to not simply walk away with your catch but to ensure that you prevent death or injury to others who may be using the frozen rivers, lakes or streams.