Government of Canada acts quickly to address extreme intoxication with proposed changes to the Criminal Code
June 17, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario – Department of Justice Canada
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The Government of Canada is unwavering in its commitment to ensuring that our criminal justice system keeps communities safe, supports victims, and holds offenders to account, while upholding Charter rights.
Women and youth are disproportionately affected by violence, such as sexual violence, including where the perpetrator is intoxicated. This is tragically an even more common experience for Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. That is why the Government of Canada is acting swiftly to address the legal gap created by the Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) decisions in Brown and Sullivan and Chan on the defence of extreme intoxication.
Today, the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, supported by the Honourable Marci Ien, Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Youth, introduced proposed amendments to the Criminal Code to ensure that individuals who consume drugs and/or alcohol in a criminally negligent manner are held criminally responsible if they harm others while extremely intoxicated. The legislation promotes public safety and accountability while upholding Charter rights.
Extreme intoxication is not about being merely drunk or high. The SCC was clear that being drunk or high is not a defence to crimes of violence, including sexual assault, and that the defence of extreme intoxication would almost never be available when alcohol alone is the cause of intoxication.
Cases where the extreme intoxication defence is used are very rare. The accused must be able to meet a high bar to prove, using expert evidence that they were in a state of extreme intoxication in which they had no voluntary control over their actions. Through this proposed legislation, people who negligently reach this state of extreme intoxication and harm others can be held criminally responsible. To be negligent means the person has not taken enough care to avoid a reasonably foreseeable risk of a violent loss of control.
These Criminal Code amendments would be one of several ways the federal government is taking action to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system and support victims and survivors of gender-based violence.
The Federal Victims Strategy’s Victims Fund supports projects across the country that increase access to justice for victims and survivors of crime and aims to give them a more effective voice in the criminal justice system.
The Judges Act and the Criminal Code were recently amended to ensure that sexual assault matters are decided fairly, without the influence of myths or stereotypes. Other changes to the Criminal Code addressed sexual assault laws dealing with consent, and expanded “rape shield” provisions clarifying how and when a complainant’s past sexual history can be entered as evidence during a trial. Together, these amendments sought to ensure that survivors of sexual assault and gender-based violence are treated with the utmost compassion and respect.
“Violence committed by people who are intoxicated has serious and devastating impacts. This is sadly true for some of the most at-risk in our society—women, children, and Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ persons. This legislation addresses the gap in the law following recent Supreme Court decisions concerning extreme intoxication. It will hold individuals criminally responsible for their choices and actions. Canadians deserve a justice system that protects them from violence, keeps communities safe, holds offenders to account, and respects the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
“Everyone in Canada deserves to feel safe, secure, and to live free of violence. This legislation holds offenders accountable and addresses the concerns from diverse communities on the recent Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on extreme intoxication. We’re committed to ensuring our criminal justice system keeps all Canadians safe, especially the most vulnerable — youth, racialized Canadians, and women in all their diversity — who are disproportionately impacted by sexual violence. We will continue to support and stand beside victims and survivors as we always have.”
The Honourable Marci Ien, M.P.
Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Yout
Extreme intoxication akin to automatism is a state in which an individual has no awareness or voluntary control over their actions. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that, in general, alcohol alone cannot cause a state of automatism.
Research shows that there are clear links between the gendered nature of violence, particularly sexual and intimate partner violence (IPV), and intoxication. For instance, between 2007 and 2017, 63% of women and girls who were killed, died at the hands of an intoxicated aggressor (Statistics Canada, 2018). In addition, the World Health Organization recently identified the harmful use of alcohol as a risk factor for both sexual violence and IPV (World Health Organization, 2021).
According to a Statistics Canada survey, in 2018, 30% of women reported being a victim of sexual assault since age 15. Over half of bisexual women (55%) and 46% of Indigenous women reported that they had been sexually assaulted since the age of 15.
The Federal Victims Strategy, led by Justice Canada, draws on specialized policy initiatives and Victims Fund project funding to increase access to justice for victims and survivors of crime and give victims of crime a more effective voice in the criminal justice system, and uphold victims’ rights, as outlined in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
Justice Canada’s Victims Fund provides grants and contributions to support projects and activities that encourage the development of new approaches, promote access to justice, improve the capacity of service providers, foster the establishment of referral networks, and/or increase awareness of services available to victims of crime and their families.
Budget 2022 provided $539.3 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, to Women and Gender Equality Canada to enable provinces and territories to supplement and enhance services and supports within their jurisdictions to prevent gender-based violence and support survivors.
For more information, media may contact:
Office of the Minister of Justice
Department of Justice Canada
Press Secretary and Issues Manager
Office of the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth
Women and Gender Equality Canada
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