MANDEL: Supreme Court weighs ‘extreme intoxication’ defence

Article content

The “zombie” defence for crimes of violence has been outlawed since 1995.


Story continues below

Article content

People who drank or ingested drugs to excess and then went on to commit violent acts could no longer use the defence of being in a state of “extreme intoxication akin to automatism.” They had to be held accountable.

But for how much longer?

Canada’s highest court is being asked to decide whether the ban on that defence is unconstitutional — or whether it should stand.

High on magic mushrooms, Thomas Chan ran barefoot through the snow to his father’s Peterborough home, grabbed a butcher knife and stabbed his dad over and over, certain he was “the devil.”

“Thomas, it’s Daddy, it’s Daddy,” Dr. Andrew Chan pleaded with his 18-year-old son. But to no avail. As his 50-year-old father bled to death, he turned his knife on his stepmother, leaving her with serious injuries.


Story continues below

Article content

Dr. Andrew Chan, who was stabbed to death by his son in 2015, is seen here on Jan. 24, 2013.
Dr. Andrew Chan, who was stabbed to death by his son in 2015, is seen here on Jan. 24, 2013. Photo by Clifford Skarstedt /Peterborough Examiner file photo

The teen was later found guilty of manslaughter and aggravated assault for the December 2015 attack.

In 2013, David Sullivan attempted suicide through a massive overdose of Wellbutrin — a drug he’d been prescribed to help stop smoking and which carries a risk of psychosis. The Whitby man suffered what his lawyer called a “a state akin to automatism” and believed his elderly mother was an alien. He stabbed her six times with two kitchen knives and only dropped them after she screamed, “David, I’m your mother.”

He was convicted of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.

Both men argued they were suffering “non-mental disorder automatism” — an exceedingly rare, unforeseen state of intoxication so extreme that they had no control over their bodies and never intended to harm anyone. But that defence was no longer recognized under the Criminal Code — it had been eliminated by Parliament in 1995 to address the outrage after chronic drunk Henri Daviault used it to walk free despite sexually assaulting an elderly woman confined to a wheelchair.


Story continues below

Article content

Under section 33.1, a person must be found guilty of a violent offence even if they were so intoxicated that they didn’t know what they were doing, so long as that intoxication was self-inflicted.

In a stunning decision last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal found section 33.1 was unconstitutional and ordered a new trial for Chan. Allowing someone to be convicted even when they were acting involuntarily, they said, violates principles of fundamental justice protected under the Charter.

Women’s groups claimed the decision re-opened the door to rapists who would claim they were too intoxicated to know what they were doing. Legal experts insisted it was a rare defence that wouldn’t open the floodgates.

On Tuesday, the controversial issue was before Canada’s highest court — with Ontario and Ottawa urging the Supreme Court to overturn the appeal and others, including lawyers for the two men, insisting the men should be acquitted.


Story continues below

Article content

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Ontario Crown Michael Perlin argued a reasonable person would understand that voluntarily misusing intoxicants carries a risk of losing control and harming others and would have done something to avoid it.

“There was no way,” countered lawyer Danielle Robitaille, “for Mr. Chan to predict or appreciate the risk of ingesting magic mushrooms on Dec. 27, 2015 would lead him into a state of mind where he lost complete grip over reality.”

Lawyer Stephanie DiGiuseppe said Sullivan was trying to kill himself and had no idea taking two fistfuls of his anti-depressant would end up with him in a psychosis battling aliens.

“Intentional violence and inadvertent violence are not the same thing,” she argued.

And Justice Michael Moldaver asked the Crown how an accused would know what quantity of drugs will make him a “zombie rather than lying on the ground and being sick?”

As the day-long arguments continued, you had to wonder: Shouldn’t there be accountability? Or does “the drugs made me do it” argument suffice?

A teen had a bad trip on magic mushrooms and never meant to kill his own father or blind his stepmother. It’s a tragedy all around. But should he really walk free?

The Supreme Court reserved its decision.


    Story continues below


    Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


    Share on facebook
    Share on twitter
    Share on pinterest
    Share on linkedin
    On Key

    Related Posts

    On AIR

    Russtrat world

    Erdogan’s Syrian Trap

    MOSCOW, 24 Oct 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute. The Anadolu news agency circulated a tough statement made by President Erdogan about Turkey’s readiness to “use heavy weapons

    Drone attack on Uncle Sam

    MOSCOW, 23 Oct 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute. As CNN reported, citing sources in the Pentagon, an attack was carried out on a US army military base