The Supreme Court of Canada issued a major decision on Friday allowing criminal defendants in cases involving assault — including sexual assault — to use a defence known as self-induced extreme intoxication.
Effectively, it means defendants who voluntarily consume intoxicating substances and then assault or interfere with the bodily integrity of another person can avoid conviction if they can prove they were too intoxicated to control their actions.
“To deprive a person of their liberty for that involuntary conduct committed in a state akin to automatism — conduct that cannot be criminal — violates the principles of fundamental justice in a system of criminal justice based on personal responsibility for one’s actions,” wrote Justice Nicholas Kasirer in the unanimous nine-judge ruling.
Under Section 33.1 of the Criminal Code, extreme intoxication — formally known as non-insane automatism — cannot be used as a defence in criminal cases where the accused voluntarily ingested the intoxicating substance.
The court’s ruling declares that section is unconstitutional.
The court found that, despite the “laudable purpose” of the criminal code provision, it runs afoul of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it is too broad.
“The legitimate goals of protecting the victims of these crimes and holding the extremely self-intoxicated accountable, compelling as they are, do not justify these infringements of the Charter that so fundamentally upset the tenets of the criminal law,” the court said in the ruling.
“With s. 33.1, Parliament has created a meaningful risk of conviction and punishment of an extremely intoxicated person who, while perhaps blameworthy in some respect, is innocent of the offence as charged according to the requirements of the Constitution.”
New trial ordered for Thomas Chan
In a written argument presented to the court as part of its deliberations, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund had warned that allowing the defence to be used in cases of voluntary extreme intoxication would privilege “individual rights over those of vulnerable groups, including women and children who disproportionately bear the risks of intoxicated violence.”
“The harm caused to women as a result of intoxicated violence is devastating and infringes on their right to security and equality,” the group had argued in their factum.
“Holding individuals accountable for violent crimes committed in a state of self-induced intoxication is a pressing and substantial objective, given that a failure to do so excuses such violence and discourages reporting as an option for survivors.”
More to come.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.