MANITOULIN – A recent court decision reinstating the use of the intoxication defence in sexual assault cases struck a nerve with municipal representatives at the August 19 Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) meeting held by videoconference.
The motion of support was brought forward by the Municipality of Assiginack from a motion moved at their council by Councillor Rob Maguire and Councillor Christianna Jones, which states “we support the efforts of MPP Jill Andrew to have the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision that makes voluntary intoxication a legitimate defense in sexual assault and violent crimes cases.” The motion went on to state “strong displeasure that such a defence exists” and “that we circulate this resolution to the MMA and with its support to the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities, our MPP and the premier for support.”
The issue arose when, in two separate cases involving two men, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down as unconstitutional a decades-old section of the Criminal Code outlawing the use of defence.
The two men, Thomas Chan and David Sullivan, had either killed or injured close relatives. Both men were high on drugs at the time of their offences, one had eaten magic mushrooms, the other had tried to kill himself with an overdose of a prescription stop-smoking medication.
Evidence was presented that both became psychotic and went on a violent rampage as a result of their intoxication. Their defence ran afoul of the ban on arguing self-induced extreme intoxication had resulted in their automatism. Automatism refers to a set of brief unconscious behaviours that typically last for several seconds to minutes (or sometimes longer) during which time a person is unaware of their actions.
The federal government enacted the law in 1995 in reaction to a backlash over a court ruling that recognized drunkenness as a defence against a sexual assault charge. That law ran counter to the concept of mens rea, or guilty mind, that is fundamental to criminal conviction, but is rarely successful—possibly a reason the law had not been successfully challenged itself until this year. The intoxication defence itself, however, runs counter to generally held public perceptions of justice.
A similar motion had also been put forward to the MMA by the Town of Gore Bay.
Billings Mayor Ian Anderson noted that his municipality had already passed a similar motion and that he had no problem supporting this motion. Mayor Al MacNevin added that his community had also support a similar motion “some time ago.”
The motion passed without dissent.