Self-inflicted excessive intoxication, or consuming too much alcohol to the point of losing control, is a legitimate defence in Canada for serious crimes such as homicide and sexual assault. On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada found that a 1995 statute prohibiting this defence was unconstitutional and violated the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a result, defendants can now argue that their atrocious conduct was unintentional and the product of intoxication or drug usage.
This defence will prevent them from being held criminally accountable for their activities. When a person claims excessive intoxication or ‘non-mental disorder automatism,’ they say they are not in their senses or have significantly impaired consciousness as a result of the drugs or alcohol in their systems. The validity of this statute was called into question in three distinct lawsuits. As part of its decision on Friday, the court affirmed the acquittals in two of the instances and suggested a trial might be ordered in the third.
One of the incidents was a guy called David Sullivan, who attempted suicide in December 2013 by swallowing a prescription medicine with the side effect of psychosis. He then stabbed his mother while in a psychotic state, thinking she was an extraterrestrial. He was found guilty of aggravated assault and assault with a deadly weapon. An appeals court overturned the sentence and declared the 1995 statute unconstitutional, acquitting David. This acquittal has now been confirmed.
Intoxication that does not result in automatism, according to the court, is not a defence for serious crimes such as murder or sexual assault. While the courts have been divided on the matter for years, women’s rights advocates have long backed the 1995 statute. This law, they argue, is critical for reducing violence against women and children. According to official statistics, women make up four out of every five victims of abuse or violence at the hands of a partner in Canada. Furthermore, women are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted.