Students from high schools across Kingston gathered at one of the city’s busiest intersections to show their opposition to a recent Supreme Court ruling that ‘voluntary extreme intoxication’ may be used as a defence in cases involving violent crimes.
The ruling, which was made on Friday, May 13, 2022, declared a federal law prohibiting the use of the defence, known as ‘non-insane automatism,’ unconstitutional, thus allowing its use by those accused of violent crimes, including homicide, sexual assault, and rape. ‘Voluntary extreme intoxication’ refers to one being in a state of self-induced intoxication, as it pertains to the Criminal Code of Canada.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the term ‘automatism’ “describes unconscious, involuntary behaviour. Automatism is a ‘defence’ to criminal charges in the following sense: to convict an accused the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt both a prohibited act and fault.” And, although the federal government added a provision to this in 1995 stating concerns that “self-induced intoxication may be used socially and legally to excuse violence, particularly violence against women and children,” the Supreme Court ruling found three such cases that it ruled the ‘self-induced extreme intoxication’ defence should be allowed.
“To deprive a person of their liberty for that involuntary conduct committed in a state akin to automatism — conduct that cannot be criminal — violates the principles of fundamental justice in a system of criminal justice based on personal responsibility for one’s actions,” Justice Nicholas Kaiser wrote in the decision. The Supreme Court ruling was a unanimous decision.
The students, who staged the walkout protest at high schools throughout Kingston at noon on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, object to the ruling, particularly with regard to how it might impact sexual assault and rape cases. The initial group of students held up signs targeted at that topic, such as “Drunk does not equal Consent” and “Keep your laws off my body.”
While the decision by the Supreme Court does not impact the right to access abortion health care services, many have speculated the ruling could create a slippery slope, pointing to issues in the United States currently surrounding abortion laws and the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade.
As the lunch hour carried on, the crowd of students alongside the southwest side of the Kingston Centre grew – the reaction to the ruling from the students was strong enough that it saw buses organized to pick students up at their schools and deliver them to the rally site.
And not all of those involved in the movement were gathered at the Kingston Centre. Students also demonstrated out front of area high schools, including Holy Cross Secondary School in Kingston’s west end.
Event organizer, Miriam Read, explained the motives behind the demonstration.
“We are protesting the new law that the Canadian Supreme Court has created that basically states that self-induced extreme intoxication can now be used as a defence against a violent crime, which includes rape and sexual assault,” she said. “We’re mostly representing students, young students, who feel moved by this because it’s obviously not what we want for the future, to happen to our kids.”
She said the event was as much to raise awareness of the newly-altered defence under the Criminal Code as it her and her fellow students expressing themselves.
“My goal is to definitely give the Supreme Court a piece of all of our minds, because we are the new generation, and we want what’s right, and obviously what they’ve done is not right,” she said, standing on the corner of Sir John A Macdonald Boulevard and Bath Road, armed with a sign.
“We want to show everybody what’s right, and we want to give them a piece of our mind.”
With files from Lucas Mulder.