May 16

The Supreme Court of Canada has published it ruling in R. v. Sullivan, a case which has attracted a significant amount of public attention based on the possibility that it will make the defence of intoxication more available for individuals charged with violent offences. The decision was released in conjunction with the Court’s ruling in R. v.Brown, which declared s. 33.1 of the Criminal Code unconstitutional.

s. 33.1 of the Criminal Code is a law that prevented individuals charged with certain violent offences from relying on the defence of intoxication if their intoxication was self-induced. The rationale for the provision was that individuals should not be able to avoid conviction on the basis of intoxication that they have knowingly brought about themselves.

However, the law also had the effect of barring individuals who experience a completely unforeseeable and extreme side effect of their decision to consume an intoxicant from using the defence. This raised the concern that individuals who fell into this category could be convicted for acts they did not voluntarily intend to do. This risk led the Supreme Court to find that the provision may lead to convictions of morally innocent people. As a result, s. 33.1 of the Criminal Code breached ss. 7 and 11(d) of the Charter.

Although the Court struck down s. 33.1, the ruling in R. v. Brown makes it clear that the availability of the defence of intoxication for individuals charged with violent offences will continue to be strictly confined. The Court reiterated the longstanding legal principle that intoxication falling short of automatism is never a defence to offences like manslaughter or sexual assault. The Court further reiterated that automatism requires the accused to show their consciousness was so impaired that they lost all willed control over their actions. This high standard will continue to make cases where the defence of self-induced intoxication akin to automatism can be applied extremely rare.