Canadas New Supreme Court Ruling Allows Extreme Intoxication As A Defence

By Jada Lowe

As a Black woman living in Canada, there is a high chance that I would be attacked or assaulted just because of who I am. There is also a high chance that there will be a lack of justice for the crimes committed. Because of this, I have to take precautions everyday to protect myself as I do not feel like society can protect me. It has been shown countless times over the years that women’s rights are not protected, even in the present day. 

On May 13, 2022, the Supreme Court of Canada allowed the use of automatism as a defence for violent crimes, after the separate cases of David Sullivan and Thomas Chan who committed violent acts, including murder, and claim they were too intoxicated to be in their right mind.

Automatism is defined as unconscious or involuntary behaviour. In Canadian law, this refers to using self-induced extreme intoxication as a defense against accusations of violent crimes. Section 33.1 of the Criminal Code didn’t allow automatism as a defense in court. However, Sullivan and Chan argued that it was against their constitutional rights.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 7 explains that “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.” 11(d) states that everyone is “innocent until proven guilty.” 

The Charter is there to protect everyone in Canada. In this case, the defendants used the charter for their benefit. It is insulting to use “the right to life, liberty, and security of the person” against a victim who lost their life. It calls the integrity of the Charter into question. Victims and survivors were defenseless against their attacker and the government. 

In 1995, Parliament barred automatism from being used as a defence in cases following public criticism when a man used it as a defence in a sexual assault case a year prior. 

Now — 28 years later — this new ruling has caused a public outcry because it makes women more vulnerable. This has further spiked fear into many people who are already skeptical about the justice system.

This ruling is a slap in the face for all of the survivors who are put through court cases. I am outraged because basic women’s rights are still being ignored. I’m tired of always feeling that we have to fight for what is right. We shouldn’t have to fight for our safety and well-being.

It’s horrifying that sexual assault isn’t taken seriously in Canada. It’s as if it’s expected to happen. Women have to deal with lifelong mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD because of sexual assault. We’re left to conquer the world by ourselves. This new ruling should not make it harder for women to defend themselves against sexual assault in court.

Men can claim extreme intoxication as a defence in criminal cases. Yet, in many sexual assault cases where women are highly intoxicated, women are humiliated for being too intoxicated and blamed for the crime that happened to them because they “asked for it.”

Lawyers explained that the automatism defense can only be presented in rare cases. It needs to be proven and it clearly states that it excludes drunkenness. However, three men have gotten away with extreme acts of violence using automatism as their defense to this date. In this patriarchal society, we need to hold them accountable for their actions instead of dismissing them.

In Canada, most cases of sexual assault don’t lead to charges filed. This can make women not want to come forward in sexual assault cases. The survivor would have to relive a traumatizing event in front of strangers and possibly get slut shamed for speaking out. They also look into their personal life for every reason to discredit them. It’s a disgusting process.

Marginalized groups such as homosexual, trans, non-binary, disabled, and women of colour are more likely to be victims of violent crimes. These marginalized groups experience a great deal of scrutiny when standing up for themselves in sexual assault cases. Indigenous women are more likely to be assaulted than anyone else in Canada. This knowledge should lead to proper protections in place in sexual assault cases.

The #MeToo era exposed how immense this problem is. Sexual assault is now a topic of conversation and people are more aware of what they do and say. For this ruling to get passed in this day and age is alarming. It proves how broken our system is.

The system needs to be rebuilt to support victims and survivors. Rules must be in place to protect their dignity and safety in court. Suspects need to be charged with the crimes committed when there is clear evidence. Community resources are necessary to support survivors and raise awareness so that they can dismantle the shame that comes with speaking up for themselves.

Section 33.1 protects the suspect, but what about the victim or survivor? They are calling out for help but no one is hearing them. The government chose to ignore them in this new ruling. This has triggered online protests for more laws to be put in place to protect victims and survivors. Women are always the last to receive rights and rules in their favour. They can no longer be an afterthought. Hopefully, it leads to more crucial conversations to fix the Canadian justice system and exposes how we treat victims and survivors of assault.

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