CANADA POLITICS Liberals introduce bill to eliminate self-induced excessive drunkenness as...

Liberals introduce bill to eliminate self-induced excessive drunkenness as legal defense

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Attorney General David Lametti has introduced legislation that would amend the Penal Code so that people who voluntarily fall into a state of extreme intoxication can be held legally responsible for their actions while in that state.

The law was passed in response to a May decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which said that excessive self-induced drunkenness can be used as a defense in cases where someone is accused of an act of violence.

“By canceling this section of the Criminal Code, the court decision left a gap in the law. Bill C-28 fills this gap,” Lametti said Friday. “This is being done in a way that is constitutional and fair.

“It amends the Criminal Code so that a person will be held liable for violence committed by him in a state of severe alcohol intoxication, if he becomes in such a state due to his own criminal negligence.”

WATCH | Lametti discusses Bill C-28:

Liberals seek to rule out self-inflicted excessive intoxication as a legal defense.

Attorney General David Lametti joined Power & Politics on Friday to debate Bill C-28, which aims to ensure that people who voluntarily become heavily intoxicated can be held legally responsible for their actions while in that state.

The Department of Justice defines extreme intoxication as a rare condition that is nearly impossible to achieve through drinking alcohol alone—a state in which a person cannot voluntarily control or be aware of their actions.

To successfully use this defense, lawyers must prove, through evidence and expert testimony, that the person was in this state of extreme intoxication when he committed the acts of which he is accused.

In 1994, the Supreme Court ruled that extreme drunkenness could be used as a legal defense. A year later, Parliament amended the Criminal Code to include Article 33.1, which prohibits a defendant from using a state of extreme intoxication as a defense against violent crime. Last month, the Supreme Court struck down section 33.1, saying it violated the Charter of Rights.

Bill C-28 does more than simply reinstate section 33.1. It seeks to render extreme self-induced intoxication invalid as a remedy by relegating it to the category of malpractice—just as failure to provide a child with the necessities is malpractice.

A Justice Department spokesman, speaking in the background, said that if the law becomes law, the courts will have to decide whether a reasonable person should be expected to know that using drugs and alcohol in certain amounts can make them unaware of their actions.

Under the law, if lawyers can convince a court that a reasonable person should know about the consequences of intoxicating substances in certain amounts, they can prove malpractice, and the defendant can be convicted on the charges against him.

A recent decision by the Supreme Court prompted a move

The decisions of the Supreme Court, taken in May of this year, prompted Lametti to draft the bill. One of the decisions involved the case of former Mount Royal University student Matthew Brown, who was charged with burglary and aggravated assault in connection with the 2018 incident.

After eating approximately 2.5 grams of magic mushrooms and drinking 12 to 14 ounces of vodka and some beer, a naked Brown broke into Janet Hamnett’s home and attacked her with a broom handle, breaking several bones in her arms.

Brown used a defense against self-induced severe intoxication and was acquitted. The Alberta Court of Appeals overturned that decision, finding Brown guilty of aggravated assault. This decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.

In its 104-page decision in the Brown case, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Alberta Court of Appeals and called on Parliament to pass a law to protect victims of violent crime committed by people under the influence of alcohol.

Matthew Brown (left) was naked and high on magic mushrooms when he broke into Janet Hamnett’s home in Calgary (right) and beat her with a broom handle. (Megan Grant/CBC, Mount Royal University)

The Court stated that “the protection of victims of violent crime, especially in the interests of the equality and dignity of women and children who are vulnerable to sexual and domestic activities while intoxicated, is an urgent and important social task.”

The other two cases the Supreme Court ruled at the same time were unanimous decisions in the David Sullivan and Thomas Chan cases, two Ontario cases heard in similar circumstances. The SCC upheld Sullivan’s acquittal and ordered a new trial for Chan.

Lametti said that while this defense can only be used in a few cases, it is important to close a gap in the law due to misinformation that began to circulate after the Supreme Court decision.

“Being drunk or high is not a defense against committing criminal acts such as sexual assault,” he said. “It was the law before the Supreme Court decision, and it remains the law today. And all Canadians should clearly understand this.”

Protection of vulnerable groups

Minister for Women, Gender Equality and Youth Marcy Yen said the government needs to respond to widespread comments on social media suggesting that rape and other sexual offenses are legal in Canada if the perpetrator is under the influence of alcohol.

“The extreme intoxication that we are talking about is not associated with drunkenness or being high. The Supreme Court has made it clear that drunkenness is not a defense against crimes of violence and sexual assault,” she said.

WATCH | The amendment will close the gap in drunkenness, Lametti says:

Liberals propose amendments to the Criminal Code in response to the decision of the Supreme Court on severe intoxication

Attorney General David Lametti announces a proposed bill to “fill a gap” in drunkenness protection following a Canadian Supreme Court ruling.

Yen said that women and minorities are already disproportionately vulnerable to acts of violence and sexual assault, and maintaining a self-induced defense against heavy intoxication could threaten their equality and security.

“We see Indigenous, racial and LGBTQ2+ women and girls experiencing more gender-based violence than any other segment of our society,” she said.

“That is why we ensure that individuals who choose to use drugs or alcohol through malpractice will be prosecuted.”

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