Canada seeks to prosecute some extremely intoxicated people who harm others

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Canada’s federal government introduced a bill to hold some people criminally responsible if they harm someone else while extremely intoxicated.

A person could be held criminally responsible if the self-induced extreme intoxication was criminally negligent. The bill follows a Supreme Court ruling last month that said people could claim extreme intoxication as a defence.

“Extreme intoxication” is a state akin to automatism in which a person is not acting voluntarily and its use as a defence requires the introduction of expert evidence. Being drunk or high is not a defence to criminal charges in Canada.

Under the bill introduced Friday, a person can be found to have committed an offence even if they were extremely intoxicated at the time if a court finds there was an objectively foreseeable risk that consuming the substance could cause extreme intoxication and lead the person to harm someone.

According to a government briefing deck, the bill is meant to provide criminal liability for “extremely intoxicated violence” in a way that complies with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In May, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that defendants accused of violent crimes such as homicide and sexual assault can use self-induced extreme intoxication as a defense, striking down a federal law supported by women’s advocacy groups.

The court said a 1995 law that prohibits the defense was unconstitutional and violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

At issue was whether defendants accused of a violent crime in a criminal court can raise extreme intoxication – known as “non-mental disorder automatism” – as a defense.

“The court’s decision left a gap in the law. Bill C-28 fills that gap … in a way that’s both constitutional and fair,” Justice Minister David Lametti told reporters, adding that under the proposed law “an individual would be held responsible for the violence they commit while in a state of extreme intoxication if they ended up in that state through their own criminal negligence.”

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