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'A painful step backwards': Calls for appeal of intoxication ruling in Ontario echo throughout Canada
Osgoode Hall is seen in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. The building is home to Ontario’s Court of Appeal and also hears cases from Divisional Court and civil litigation before the Superior Court of Justice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
TORONTO -- The provincial and federal New Democrats are calling for an appeal of a recent Ontario court ruling allowing people accused of sexual assault or other violent crimes to argue they were so intoxicated they did not know what they were doing, calling the law “a painful step backwards.”
“It is already incredibly difficult for survivors of sexual assault to come forward, and to get the justice they deserve for the heinous crimes committed against them,” NDP MPP Jill Andrew said in a statement.
“Anything that makes it even more difficult for survivors of sexual assault and violent crimes to get that justice is a painful step backwards.”
In her call for an appeal, the Official Opposition Women’s Issues critic stated her desire for a higher court to weigh in on “the impact this decision may have on the lives of women, trans women and sex workers, their bodies, and the justice they deserve after surviving sexual assault or violence.”
Andrew also created an online petition calling for support on the appeal, which has more than 165,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
NDP MP Lindsay Mathyssen echoed Andrew’s sentiment, stating that the decision “sends an incredibly dangerous message that men can avoid accountability for their acts of violence against women and children by using intoxication as a defence.”
“Violence disproportionately impacts women and girls in Canada, particularity those who are the most marginalized, including racialized and Indigenous women, as well as those living with disabilities,” she said.
“Many barriers for women and survivors of sexual assault to come forward already exist; now there are even more blocking them from getting justice.”
A decades-old law had banned an intoxication defence, but earlier this week, the Court of Appeal for Ontario passed a ruling declaring it unconstitutional for trampling on key rights of the accused.
The law was enacted by the federal government in 1995 amid backlash over a court ruling that recognized intoxication could be raised to defend against a charge of sexual assault.
In the wake of this week’s ruling, which stated that a person must act voluntarily to commit a crime, several women’s-rights activists spoke out and criticism was shared widely on social media.
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund said the decision “risks sending a dangerous message that men can avoid accountability for their acts of violence against women and children through intoxication.”
In response, a director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Cara Zwibel, said she sympathizes with concerns raised, but added that the decision clarifies the legal situation around use of the intoxication defence.
“I don’t see it as seriously undermining the rights of victims,” she said. “This is a rarely used provision; it’s not this widespread, systemic concern.”
The law still leaves the onus on an accused to come up with expert and other evidence to provide they were in a state of automatism in order to raise the intoxication defence successfully, Zwibel said.
Mathyssen also stated that the NDPs are “exploring changes to the law that may be necessary to ensure that extreme intoxication not be used as a legitimate defence for harassment and assault.”
In an email response to CTV News Toronto, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General said the decision is being “carefully reviewed.”
“As the matter is within the appeal period it would be inappropriate to comment,” Brian Gray said.
With files from The Canadian Press