OTTAWA — Canada’s highest court has ruled that the law barring the use of automatism, or a state of extreme intoxication, as a defence for some crimes is unconstitutional and called on Parliament to consider new legislation.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled on three cases Friday that examined whether people who commit certain violent crimes can use the defence of automatism — a state of extreme intoxication to the point where they lose control of themselves.
Justice Nicholas Kasirer, who wrote the unanimous decision, said the section of the Criminal Code that bars the use of this defence for certain acts is unconstitutional.
Kasirer said the use of the Criminal Code section violates the Charter because a person’s decision to become intoxicated does not mean they intended to commit a violent offence.
The section also violates the Charter because an accused could be convicted without the prosecution having to prove the person was willing or meant to commit the act.
The court also said that Parliament may want to enact a new law to hold extremely intoxicated people accountable for violent crimes, to protect vulnerable victims, particularly women and children.
The federal government enacted the existing law in 1995 amid a backlash over a court ruling that recognized drunkenness could be raised as a defence against a sexual assault charge.
Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement Friday that the government is carefully reviewing the top court’s decision to assess its effect on victims as well as the criminal law.
Lametti noted that the decision does not apply to the “vast majority” of cases involving someone who commits a crime while intoxicated.
One of the cases considered by the court was that of a Calgary man who consumed alcohol and magic mushrooms and then violently attacked a woman while in a state of extreme intoxication.
The court restored the acquittal of Matthew Brown, who was convicted for breaking into a professor’s house and assaulting her with a broom handle while he was naked and high on magic mushrooms.
Kasirer said Brown was not merely drunk or high, but “was in a psychotic state and had no willed control over his actions.”
The court’s other decision dealt with two Ontario cases, for Thomas Chan and David Sullivan.
The men had either killed or injured close relatives. Both were high on drugs — one had eaten magic mushrooms, while the other had tried to kill himself with an overdose of a prescription stop-smoking medication.
Applying the decision in Brown’s case, the court acquitted Sullivan because he proved he was intoxicated “to the point of automatism,” noting the trial judge found he was acting involuntarily.
The top court ordered a new trial for Chan because he was entitled to raise the defence of automatism but no finding of fact had been made in the original trial.
Women’s groups had previously expressed concerns about the defences raised by the men, arguing that they could erode protections for women from sexual assault and other gender-based violence.
Kat Owens, project director at the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, said it was important that the court on Friday clarified the difference between drunkenness and extreme intoxication.
By setting a high bar for extreme intoxication, it also sets a high bar for avoiding criminal responsibility, Owens said.
In Brown’s ruling, the court said that drunkenness is never a defence for certain crimes, including manslaughter, assault and sexual assault, a clarification Owens said was valuable “given the many ways in which we see the criminal justice system fails survivors of sexual violence.”
On whether the government chooses to pursue legislation, Owens said that too often the criminal justice system fails and re-traumatizes survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and focus should be put on the way existing laws are applied and how actors in the justice system interact with survivors.
Owens also said governments could explore responses to sexual violence outside the criminal justice system, such as a restorative justice approach.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press
New report details missed chances to stop Uvalde shooting
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A police officer armed with a rifle watched the gunman in the Uvalde elementary school massacre walk toward the campus but did not fire while waiting for permission from a supervisor to shoot, according to a sweeping critique released Wednesday on the tactical response to the May tragedy.
Some of the 21 victims at Robb Elementary School, including 19 children, possibly “could have been saved” on May 24 had they received medical attention sooner while police waited more than an hour before breaching the fourth-grade classroom, a review by a training center at Texas State University for active shooter situations found.
The report is yet another damning assessment of how police failed to act on opportunities that might have saved lives in what became the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
“A reasonable officer would have considered this an active situation and devised a plan to address the suspect,” read the report published by the university’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program.
Authors of the 26-page report said their findings were based off video taken from the school, police body cameras, testimony from officers on the scene and statements from investigators. Among their findings:
— It appeared that no officer waiting in the hallway during the shooting ever tested to see if the door to the classroom was locked. The head of Texas’ state police agency has also faulted officers on the scene for not checking the doors.
— The officers had “weapons (including rifles), body armor (which may or may not have been rated to stop rifle rounds), training, and backup. The victims in the classrooms had none of these things.”
— When officers finally entered the classroom at 12:50 p.m. — more than an hour after the shooting began — they were no better equipped to confront the gunman than they had been up to that point.
—”Effective incident command” never appears to have been established among the multiple law enforcement agencies that responded to the shooting.
The gunman, an 18-year-old with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, entered the building at 11:33 a.m. Before that a Uvalde police officer, who the report did not identify, saw the gunman carrying a rife toward the west hall entrance. The officer asked a supervisor for permission to open fire, but the supervisor “either did not hear or responded too late,” the report said.
When the officer turned back toward the gunman, he already gone inside “unabated,” according to the report.
The report is one of multiple fact-finding reviews launched in the aftermath of the worst school shooting in Texas history. A committee formed by Texas legislators has also interviewed more than 20 people, including officers who were on the scene, behind closed doors for several weeks. It is unclear when they will release their findings.
It follows testimony last month in which Col. Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told the state Senate that the police response was an “abject failure.” He pinned particular blame on Chief Pete Arredondo, saying that as on-scene commander the Uvalde schools police chief made “terrible decisions” and stopped officers from confronting the gunman earlier.
Arredondo has tried to defend his actions, telling the Texas Tribune that he didn’t consider himself the commander in charge of operations and that he assumed someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response. He said he didn’t have his police and campus radios but that he used his cellphone to call for tactical gear, a sniper and the classroom keys.
According to he report released Wednesday, Arredondo and another Uvalde police officer spent 13 minutes in the school hallway during the shooting discussing tactical options, whether to use snipers and how to get into the classroom windows.
“They also discussed who has the keys, testing keys, the probability of the door being locked, and if kids and teachers are dying or dead,” the report read.
McCraw said police had enough officers and firepower on the scene of the Uvalde school massacre to have stopped the gunman three minutes after he entered the building, and they would have found the door to the classroom where he was holed up unlocked if they had bothered to check it.
A lawyer for Arredondo and a spokeswoman for the Uvalde city police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Arredondo is on leave from his job with the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and resigned from his position as a city councilor last week.
Public leaders, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, initially praised the police response in Uvalde. Abbott said officers reacted quickly and ran toward the gunfire with “amazing courage” to take out the killer, thereby saving lives. He later said he was misled. In the days and weeks after the shooting, authorities gave conflicting and incorrect accounts of what happened. The fallout has driven recriminations and rifts between local at state authorities. On Tuesday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez released a letter asking Abbott to move administration of a victims relief fund from the local prosecutor’s office to the Texas Department of Emergency Management. They wrote that they’ve received numerous complaints about District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, “including the failure to timely deliver victim’s compensation resources to those in need.″
Busbee’s office declined to comment Wednesday.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.
Find more AP coverage of the Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting
Paul J. Weber And Jake Bleiberg, The Associated Press
In the midst of chaotic shooting, strangers save a young boy
By Martha Irvine in Chicago
CHICAGO (AP) — A woman — stunned and speechless in the chaos of a July 4 parade massacre — walked up to Greg Ring and handed him a 2-year-old boy, covered in blood.
Ring had fled the scene in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park with his wife and three children to an area behind a popular pancake house.
“We kind of met eyes and didn’t say anything…. I put my arms out, and she gave him to me,” Ring said Thursday, when describing the exchange with the unidentified woman, who then laid down in front of their car in shock.
The boy pointed in the direction of the parade route, saying “Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy.”
Ring’s wish to help the boy carried him back to the scene. He tucked the boy’s face in his chest, so he couldn’t see the carnage. But Ring quickly realized it was too dangerous.
“Active shooter! Get back down!” a police officer shouted. Ring fled again.
He and his family got to their car and took the boy to a Highland Park fire station. “I have a boy. He’s not ours,” he told the department staff, who asked him to keep the boy as authorities searched for the shooter and helped the wounded.
“They were getting ready for war,” Ring said.
The family drove to Ring’s in-laws, where they hunkered down. There, the boy sat with Ring’s 4-year-old, watching a Mickey Mouse show.
“He asked my wife to wipe him off because he had blood on him that wasn’t his,” said Ring, an insurance broker from Highland Park.
They were later able to identify the boy and reunite him with his grandparents.
Aiden McCarthy’s parents, Kevin and Irina, both died in the shooting, which left five others dead and more than two dozen wounded.
Friends of the McCarthys said Irina’s parents would care for the boy going forward.
“Aiden … will have a long road ahead to heal, find stability, and ultimately navigate life as an orphan. He is surrounded by a community of friends and extended family that will embrace him with love, and any means available to ensure he has everything he needs as he grows,” Irina Colon, a family friend, wrote on a GoFundMe account she created for the family and Aiden. The account has raised more than $2 million.
On Thursday, Ring was still trying to process what happened at the July 4 parade. He said he’s not a hero and just did what anyone would have done in the situation.
“I’m just filled with immense gratitude. I’m really sad. I don’t know, I don’t know how I feel. I have not slept for a minute the last two nights,” he said.
“What could’ve happened — it is nothing short of a miracle that the five of us — me, my wife and my three kids — one of us or all of us isn’t dead. I do not understand. Everybody around us was hit or got shot.”
Four of others who were killed were identified Tuesday as Katherine Goldstein, 64; Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63; Stephen Straus, 88; and Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78, and Eduardo Uvaldo, 69.
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