View From the Legislature

Supreme Court Ruling Needs Response

  • Kelvin Goertzen, Author
  • Member of the Legislative Assembly, Steinbach

On Friday of last week, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) issued a ruling that allows for defendants who commit violent crimes after willfully becoming extremely intoxicated to use that extreme level of intoxication as a defence for having committed the crime. Previously, the Criminal Code of Canada barred the defence of automatism (an extreme state of intoxication to the point of losing control) but the ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada has reinstated this defence in Canada.

While the number of cases to which this defence may be successfully used is anticipated to be small, the reality is that even that assurance is of no comfort to the victims, who are often women, children and the vulnerable. In the case that the SCC was considering last week, the victim was a woman who was violently sexually assaulted after the extremely intoxicated accused broke into her home. The accused had wilfully consumed extreme amounts of alcohol and drugs prior to the violent attack. The Supreme Court indicated that other accused individuals in cases involving extreme intoxication and violence could use the high level of their wilful intoxication as a defence.

Not surprisingly, many Canadians expressed shock and concern at this decision. Victims advocates also spoke out and raised concerns about how this will impact Canadians confidence in the administration of justice.

In its ruling, while the SCC reinstated extreme intoxication as a potential defence, it did invite Parliament to bring forward other provisions in the Criminal Code that would create an offence related to extreme intoxication that would help to protect victims and provide justice.

On Monday of this week, in my role as the provincial Minister of Justice and Attorney General, I wrote to the federal Minister of Justice David Lametti asking him to move quickly to close this legislative gap and draft a provision that will remove the defence of extreme intoxication for violent crime. I offered him the assistance of my provincial Department of Justice officials as well.

Sadly, over the past decades Canadians have seen not only the increase in powerful street drugs such as crystal methamphetamine, but their increased use as well. The link between extreme intoxication and violence from these types of drugs or from alcohol or from a combination of drugs, is well established. However, allowing these acts of violence after willful extreme intoxication to be defended by that very willful intoxication is not in keeping with the expectations of Canadians. I will continue to press the federal government, on behalf of Manitobans and all Canadians, to address this issue quickly and I will keep you informed as well.