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Law barring use of extreme intoxication as criminal defence unconstitutional: SCOC

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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.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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Police: Texas gunman was inside the school for over an hour

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By Jake Bleiberg, Jim Vertuno And Elliot Spagat in Uvalde

Texas authorities say the gunman who massacred 21 people at an elementary school was in the building for over an hour before he was killed by law enforcement officers.

The amount of time that elapsed has stirred anger and questions among family members, who demanded to know why they did not storm the place and put a stop to the rampage more quickly.

Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine said 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered Robb Elementary School and began his rampage at 11:40 a.m. Tuesday.

A Border Patrol tactical unit began trying to get inside an hour later, and at 12:58 p.m., radio chatter noted he was dead.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Law enforcement authorities faced mounting questions and criticism Thursday over how much time elapsed before they stormed a Texas elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.

Separately, after two days of unclear and contradictory accounts from police, a Texas law enforcement official said that an armed school district officer did not encounter or exchange fire with the attacker, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, before he entered Robb Elementary in the town of Uvalde, as previously reported.

But many other details about the timing of events and the police response remained murky. The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.

During the siege, which ended when a U.S. Border Patrol team burst in and shot the gunman to death, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.

“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside a house across the street.

Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner: “There were more of them. There was just one of him.”

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him.

“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”

But a department spokesman said Thursday that authorities were still working to clarify the timeline of the attack, uncertain whether that period of 40 minutes to an hour began when the gunman reached the school, or earlier, when he shot his grandmother at home.

“Right now we do not have an accurate or confident timeline to provide to say the gunman was in the school for this period,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN.

Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz did not give a timeline but said repeatedly that the tactical officers from his agency who arrived at the school did not hesitate. He said they moved rapidly to enter the building, lining up in a “stack” behind an agent holding up a shield.

“What we wanted to make sure is to act quickly, act swiftly, and that’s exactly what those agents did,” Ortiz told Fox News.

But a law enforcement official said that once in the building, the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.

Olivarez said investigators were trying to establish whether the classroom was, in fact, locked or barricaded in some way.

Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school as the massacre unfolded. When he arrived, he saw two officers outside the school and about five others escorting students out of the building. But 15 or 20 minutes passed before the arrival of officers with shields, equipped to confront the gunman, he said.

As more parents flocked to the school, he and others pressed police to act, Cazares said. He heard about four gunshots before he and the others were ordered back to a parking lot.

“A lot of us were arguing with the police, ‘You all need to go in there. You all need to do your jobs.’ Their response was, ‘We can’t do our jobs because you guys are interfering,’” Cazares said.

Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a funeral home, who ran away uninjured, according to authorities and witnesses.

As for the armed school officer, he was driving nearby but was not on campus when Ramos crashed his truck, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke of condition of anonymity. Investigators have concluded that school officer was not positioned between the school and Ramos, leaving him unable to confront the shooter before he entered the building, the law enforcement official said.

As Ramos entered the school, two Uvalde police officers exchanged fire with him, and were wounded, according to Olivarez. Ramos began killing his victims in a classroom.

On Wednesday night, hundreds packed the bleachers at the town’s fairgrounds for a vigil. Some cried. Some closed their eyes tight, mouthing silent prayers. Parents wrapped their arms around their children as the speakers led prayers for healing.

Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared. Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.

Ramos ran out the front door and across the yard to a truck parked in front of the house and raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air, Gallegos said.

Ramos’ grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.

Gallegos said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, whom he rarely saw.

Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.

But that night, her niece had a question.

“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

___

Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

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More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings

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Police face questions over delays in storming Texas school

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UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Law enforcement authorities faced questions and criticism Thursday over how much time elapsed before they stormed an Uvalde elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.

Investigators were also unable to say with any certainty whether an armed school district security officer outside Robb Elementary exchanged fire with the attacker, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, when he first arrived on Tuesday.

The motive for the rampage — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.

During the siege, which ended when a Border Patrol team burst in and shot Ramo to death, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.

“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside his house, across the street from the school.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him.

But a department spokesman said later that authorities could not give a solid estimate of how long the gunman was in the school.

“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”

Meanwhile, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.

Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside.

Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.

“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”

“They were unprepared,” he added.

Carranza had watched as Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a funeral home, who ran away uninjured.

Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN that the school security officer outside was armed and that initial reports said he and Ramos exchanged gunfire. “But right now we’re trying to corroborate that information,” Olivarez said.

After entering the school, Ramos barricaded himself in a classroom and began to kill.

Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner.

“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.

On Wednesday night, hundreds packed the bleachers at the town’s fairgrounds for a vigil. Some cried. Some closed their eyes tight, mouthing silent prayers. Parents wrapped their arms around their children as the speakers led prayers for healing.

Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared.

Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.

Ramos ran out the front door and across the yard to a truck parked in front of the house and raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air, Gallegos said.

Ramos’ grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.

Gallegos said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, whom he rarely saw.

Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.

But that night, her niece had a question.

“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

___

Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

___

More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings

Jake Bleiberg, Jim Vertuno And Elliot Spagat, The Associated Press

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