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Ottawa poised to amend extreme intoxication law after Supreme Court ruling

The federal government is poised to amend the Criminal Code provision on the use of a controversial defence known as self-induced extreme intoxication.

PHOTO: Canada’s Supreme Court rules voluntary extreme intoxication is a defence – May 13, 2022
The federal government is poised to amend the Criminal Code provision on the use of a controversial defence known as self-induced extreme intoxication following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last month.

Justice Minister David Lametti put a bill on notice on Wednesday night to amend the law. That means the soonest the government could table the amendment in the House of Commons would be Friday.

He has been facing calls to act ever since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled defendants in violent criminal cases can use a defence known as extreme intoxication to the point of automatism.

The court said a law prohibiting that defence from being used in cases of self-induced extreme intoxication was unconstitutional.

But there remain questions about how the law defines extreme intoxication to the point of automatism, and what the availability of the defence would mean for women, who have historically been the majority of victims in cases where men tried to use the defence in court.

“It really is a gendered defence to claim extreme intoxication as a defence for crimes of violence. It’s a defence that’s mainly brought forward by men to excuse violence against women,” said Kerri Froc, associate professor of law at the University of New Brunswick and an expert on gender and the law.

The Supreme Court left the ball in the government’s court on whether to propose new legal wording, laying out two possible options that could be constitutional.

One option could be “if Parliament legislated an offence of dangerous intoxication or intoxication causing harm that incorporates voluntary intoxication as an essential element,” the court wrote.

“Parliament may also wish to study and regulate according to the nature and properties of the intoxicant,” the decision continued.

“The common effects of the intoxicant, its legality, and the circumstances in which it was obtained and consumed may be relevant to a marked departure standard.”

Lametti had said last month the government was studying the court’s proposals.


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