extreme intoxication

Appeal Court Expunges the Defence of Self-Induced Intoxication

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week, amidst great controversy, the Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision in the cases of R. v. Sullivan and R. v. Chan regarding the application of the defence of self-induced intoxication. 

This significant decision declared that section 33.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada (“CC”) is unconstitutional and of no force or effect.

SECTION 33.1 OF THE CRIMINAL CODE

Section 33.1 of the CC established that if an accused caused his/her own intoxication and commits a violent offence, he/she cannot claim that he/she was too intoxicated to be found guilty of even general intent offences (i.e. assault and sexual assault).  This applies even if he/she was intoxicated to the point of automatism (the performance of an action unconsciously or involuntarily), even if his/her acts were involuntary or he/she lacked the mental state to commit the violent act.

In its latest decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal determined that this law breached “virtually all the criminal law principles that the law relies upon to protect the morally innocent, including the venerable presumption of innocence”.

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SULLIVAN CASE?

In the case of David Sullivan, the accused over-consumed prescription medication in an attempt to take his own life.  The medication left him in a state of extreme psychosis.  During the psychotic episode, he believed he had captured an alien and proceeded to stab his mother.

At trial, Sullivan was found guilty of the violent offence despite Sullivan’s contention that his intoxication was involuntary as it resulted from a suicide attempt. 

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CHAN CASE?

Thomas Chan, a high school student, stabbed and killed his father and severely injured his father’s partner during a psychotic episode after consuming magic mushrooms.  Chan believed he was a deity and that his father was the devil. 

At trial, Chan also attempted to rely upon the defence of non-mental disorder automatism.  Given section 33.1, which prohibits the use of automatism as a defence in cases of violence when an accused’s intoxication was self-inflicted, this defence failed and Chan was convicted.

THE COURT OF APPEAL’S DECISION REGARDING SECTION 33.1 OF THE CRIMINAL CODE

The Court of Appeal found that section 33.1 of the CC violated the following sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

  1. The right to life, liberty and security of the person (section 7); and
  2. The right to the presumption of innocence (section 11(d)).

Under Canadian law, if a law violates a Charter right, in certain circumstances it can be justified by the Crown and upheld despite the violations.  In this case, the Appeal Court could not find benefits to the law, and instead found that the law was contrary to the principles of fundamental justice.

In its decision, the Court of Appeal wrote:

Put simply, the deleterious effects of s.33.1 include the contravention of virtually all the criminal law principles that the law relies upon to protect the morally innocent, including the venerable presumption of innocence. …

With very little true gain, Parliament has attempted to cast aside the bedrock of moral fault.

The Court of Appeal held that a person must act voluntarily to commit a crime.  Although lawmakers attempted to help victims attain justice with the introduction of section 33.1 of the CC, the law in actuality violated an accused’s rights by making them responsible for violence they had no control over.  Justices David Paciocco and David Watt wrote:

As for recognizing and promoting the equality, security and dignity of crime victims, it is obvious that those few victims who may see their offenders acquitted without s.33.1 will be poorly served.  They are victims, whether their attacked willed or intended the attack.  However, to convict an attacker of offences for which they do not bear the moral fault required by the Charter to void this outcome, is to replace on injustice for another, and at an intolerable cost to the core principles that animate criminal liability.

The Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Chan as he was only convicted of offences that included an element of assault and those convictions depended upon section 33.1.  On the other hand, the Court of Appeal acquitted Sullivan of all of his charges.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The Crown prosecutor has advised that it will be seeking leave to appeal these decisions to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund has strongly expressed its frustration over this Court of Appeal decision and believes that this decision sends a message “that men can avoid accountability for their acts of violence against women and children through intoxication”.

However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has expressed that the concern that the floodgates have been opened to men arguing the defence of intoxication are unwarranted.  An accused must still prove that he/she was in a state of automatism, not merely drunk.

Cara Zwibel, Director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, stated:

This is a rarely used provision.  It’s not this widespread, systemic concern.

We will continue to follow the law as it evolves in response to the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decisions and will report any developments in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding charges that have been laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1047.  Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting their client’s rights.  For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice.

Extreme Intoxication Can be Used as a Defence for Sexual Assault in Ontario

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

An Ontario judge has ruled that the defence of extreme intoxication in sexual assault cases is once again valid in Ontario.

Superior Court Justice Nancy Spies ruled recently in the case of R. v. Cameron McCaw (“McCaw”) that section 33.1 of the Criminal Code, which states that self-induced intoxication is not a defence, is unconstitutional as it violates a defendant’s right to be presumed innocent and the right to fundamental justice.

HISTORY OF THE DEFENCE OF EXTREME INTOXICATION

The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) ruled in 1994 that drunkenness in its extreme is a defence to sexual assault. This is known as the Daviault decision. The SCC upheld a trial judge’s acquittal of chronic alcoholic, Henri Daviault. Daviault was permitted to use extreme intoxication as a defence against charges that he sexually assaulted a disabled 65-year-old woman. Daviault had consumed up to eight beers and almost an entire large bottle of brandy. The court ruled that depriving Daviault of the drunkenness defence would violate his Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”).

Following this ruling, the federal government quickly introduced a law abolishing the defence of self-induced intoxication for crimes involving assault (section 33.1 of the Criminal Code).

33.1 (1)  It is not a defence to an offence referred to in subsection (3) that the accused, by reason of self-induced intoxication, lacked the general intent or the voluntariness required to commit the offence, where the accused departed markedly from the standard of care as described in subsection (2).

33.1 (2)  For the purposes of this section, a person departs markedly from the standard of reasonable care generally recognized in Canadian society and is thereby criminally at fault where the person, while in a state of self-induced intoxication that renders the person unaware of, or incapable of consciously controlling, their behaviour, voluntarily or involuntarily interferes or threatens to interfere with the bodily integrity of another person.

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CASE OF R. v. MCCAW?

On July 11, 2015, the alleged victim, referred to as K.B., and her ex-boyfriend (also the roommate of McCaw) attended a pool party from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. where they consumed a lot of alcohol. K.B., her ex-boyfriend, and another man then met up with McCaw at his apartment . They had a few more drinks and then went outside to the parking lot to smoke. K.B. was so intoxicated that she had to be carried inside the apartment and placed on the couch in the living room where she passed out, fully clothed. McCaw and his two friends went to a nearby bar to continue drinking. McCaw and the ex-boyfriend then returned to the apartment. At some point during the evening, McCaw allegedly consumed marijuana and GBD, the “date-rape drug”.

K.B. alleges that “she awoke to find Mr. McCaw touching her sexually and kissing her and then engaging in sexual intercourse with her.” She initially thought this was her ex-boyfriend, so she did not resist. She then realized that it was McCaw. The victim left the apartment with her ex-boyfriend, leaving McCaw sitting in an arm chair, where he appeared to be sleeping and holding a pair of scissors.

The victim reported the sexual assault to police around 5 a.m. the next morning. Police proceeded to arrest and charge McCaw with sexual assault.

JUSTICE SPIES’ DECISION

Prior to McCaw’s trial, an application was filed by McCaw’s lawyer seeking an order affirming that section 33.1 of the Criminal Code was not in effect as it violated McCaw’s rights under the Charter. Allegedly, McCaw will testify at trial that he had sexual intercourse with A.B., but performed these acts without having intended to do so.

Justice Spies stated that section 33.1 “relieves the Crown of proving the specific mens rea for the charged offence and instead allows for proof of guilt on a different, and arguable lower, standard. It does this even where the state of the accused’s intoxication is so extreme that it reasonably gives rise to a doubt about whether the accused intended the offending action. The prospect of conviction in the face of a reasonable doubt offends both s. 7 and s. 11(d) of the Charter.”

Justice Spies also maintained that section 33.1 relieves the Crown of proving the voluntariness of the act (a mental element of the crime), again infringing an accused’s Charter rights.

In conclusion, Justice Spies allowed McCaw’s application and affirmed that section 33.1 of the Criminal Code is of no force and effect in Ontario. Thus, this decision does not apply directly to any other province in Canada.

Justice Spies provided her ruling on the defence of extreme drunkenness prior to McCaw’s trial. This allows McCaw to use the defence at trial on the charge that he sexually assaulted a woman in a Toronto apartment.

McCaw must prove at trial that it was more likely than not that he was intoxicated to the point of automatism. This is described as a robotic state where he was not aware of his actions.

McCaw’s trial begins on September 12. We will provide updates in this blog as new developments regarding this case become available.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a sexual assault offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience.