Canada’s top court has ruled that the law banning the use of automatism, or a state of extreme intoxication, as a defense for some crimes is unconstitutional and has urged Parliament to consider new legislation.
Canada’s Supreme Court on Friday ruled in three cases examining whether people who commit certain violent crimes can defend themselves against automatism – a state of extreme intoxication to the point where they lose control of themselves .
Judge Nicholas Kasirer, who wrote the unanimous decision, said the section of the Criminal Code prohibiting the use of this defense for certain acts was unconstitutional.
Kasirer said using the section of the penal code violated the charter because a person’s decision to get intoxicated did not mean they intended to commit an act of violence.
The section also violates the Charter because an accused could be convicted without prosecutors having to prove that the person was willing or intended to commit the act.
The court also said Parliament may want to enact new legislation to hold extremely intoxicated people accountable for violent crimes and protect vulnerable victims, particularly women and children.
The federal government enacted the existing law in 1995 amid a backlash to a court ruling that recognized intoxication could be used as a defense to a sexual assault charge.
One of the cases before the Supreme Court on Friday was that of a Calgary man who consumed alcohol and magic mushrooms and then violently assaulted a woman in a state of extreme intoxication.
The court restored the acquittal of Matthew Brown, who was convicted of breaking into a professor’s home and attacking her with a broomstick while he was naked and high on magic mushrooms.
Kasirer said Brown was not only drunk or high, but “was in a psychotic state and had no volitional control over his actions.”
The court’s other decision dealt with two cases in Ontario, for Thomas Chan and David Sullivan.
The men had either killed or injured close relatives. Both were high on drugs – one had been eating magic mushrooms while the other had attempted suicide by overdosing on a prescription smoking cessation drug.
Applying the ruling in Brown’s case, the court acquitted Sullivan because he proved he was drunk “to the point of automatism” and noted that the trial judge found he was acting involuntarily.
The Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Chan because he was entitled to raise the defense of automatism but no finding of fact was made in the original trial.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 13, 2022.
This story was produced with financial support from Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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