AuthorKent Roach
Intoxication from alcohol or drugs may be a condition that prevents
the Crown from proving th at the accused had the fault element re-
quired for a particular offence (see Chapter 5). Some extreme forms of
intoxication may even result in involuntary conduct th at, as discussed
in Chapter 3, is increasingly seen as inconsistent with proof of the pro-
hibited act. Nevertheless, the intoxication defence has been inf‌luenced
by policy considerations beyond those th at relate to the fault element
or the prohibited act of the particular offence. For these reasons, it will
be examined here in a separate chapter.
Intoxication was historically considered an aggravating factor to a
crime because it “wa s occasioned by [the accused’s] own act and folly,
and he might have avoided it.”1 In the nineteenth centur y, as greater
emphasis was placed on subjective me ns rea, courts beca me more con-
cerned about the relevance of intoxication as a possible defence. The
object was not to determine whether the accused was i ntoxicated, but
whether intoxication, combined with any other factors, prevented the
formation of the fault element required for the particul ar offence. At
the same time, however, courts never completely abandoned the older
idea that an intoxicated offender was not morally innocent, and they
placed restrictions on the ava ilability of the intoxication defence. In-
toxication was admissible and could rai se a reasonable doubt to the
mental element for specif‌ic intent offences, which required a more
1 Reniger v Fogossa (1548), 75 ER 1 (Ex).
complex form of subjective fault, often an ulterior objective beyond
the immediate act. It was not, however, admissible when the accused
was charged with genera l intent offences, which require d proof only of
an intent to perform the immed iate act or objective fault. In practice,
this meant th at intoxication could be a defence to more serious crimes
such as murder and robbery, but not to less serious offences such as
manslaughter and ass ault.
The distinction between general and specif‌ic intent offences has
frequently been critici zed. As examined i n Chapter 5, there are dif-
ferent levels of mens rea, but fault elements are not usually classif‌ied
as either general or specif‌ic intent. At best, the general/specif‌ic intent
dichotomy serves as a rough and ready distinction between the various
degrees of subjective men s rea and how they may be affected by the ac-
cused’s intoxication.
The classif‌ication of a part icular fault element as general or specif‌ic
intent may be uncertain and has “proved formidable to those who have
been schooled in criminal law, and daunting to those who have not.”2
In making this classif‌ication, court s should examine the complexity of
the fault level for the particular offence. In ca ses of uncertainty, “logic,
intuition, and policy” play a role. For example, the Court indicated t hat
assaulting with intent to resist arrest is a s pecif‌ic intent offence that
requires a complex mens rea. But in ca ses where evidence of intoxi-
cation creates a reasonable doubt about that particular fault element,
the accused will often be convicted of the lesser included offence of
assault, which has consistently been classif‌ied a s a general intent of-
fence. The same is true for the specif‌ic intent offence of murder and the
general intent offence of manslaughter. The classif‌ication of intent as
either general or specif‌ic remain s a relevant and often decisive factor in
the administ ration of the intoxication defence. Its continued relevance
reveals concerns about whether voluntary intoxication by the accused
should lead to a complete acquittal. As will be seen in this and the next
two chapters, defences are often inf‌luenced by concerns about the ul-
timate disposition of the accused.
It would also be wrong to suggest that intoxication can never be
a defence to a general intent offence in Canadian cr iminal law. The
Supreme Court in the 1994 case of R v Daviault3 controversi ally recog-
nized a separate extreme intoxication defence that the accused must
establish on a balance of probabilities and with expert ev idence. Such
an extreme intoxication defence would not simply raise a reasonable
2 R v Tatton, 2015 SCC 33 at para 31 [Tatto n].
Intoxication 277
doubt about the accused’s actual intent, as is the cas e with the ordinary
intoxication defence that is available for offences classif‌ied as specif‌ic
intent offences. Rather, the extreme intoxication defence would be in-
consistent with the accus ed’s capacity to have the minimal i ntent for
offences classif‌ied as general intent offences and the accused’s capacity
to act in a voluntary manner, which has been recognized as a require-
ment for the commission of the prohibited act or actus reus. The Court
held that the substitution of becoming voluntarily intoxicated for the
fault and voluntariness of the general i ntent crime violated sections 7 and
11(d) of the Charter and could not be justif‌ied as a reasonable limit on
the accused’s rights. The extreme intoxication defence was controver-
sial because it was recog nized in a case where an accu sed was charged
with the general intent crime of sexual assault. Although the Supreme
Court accurately predicted that the e xtreme intoxication defence would
be rare, it could result in an extremely intoxicated accused being ac-
quitted of all criminal offences, even violent ones.
Within a year of the Daviault decision and even though intoxica-
tion has historica lly been a common law defence, Parliament enacted
section 33.1–3 of the Code to deny an extreme intoxication defence
whenever the accused is charged w ith an offence “that includes as
an element an assault or any other interference or thre at of interfer-
ence by a person with the bod ily integrity of another person.”4 This
new provision follows the pre-Daviault caselaw deeming t he fault of
becoming voluntarily intoxicated as a suff‌icient and substituted form
of fault even if the accused at the time of the comm ission of the pro-
hibited act “lacked the basic intent or the voluntarines s required” to
commit the general intent violent offence such as manslaughter, sex-
ual as sault, or as sault.
The constitutionality of section 33.1–3 still has not been def‌initely
decided by the Supreme Court. It would seem that the substitution of
the fault of voluntarily becoming ext remely intoxicated for the fault
and voluntariness of a general intent offence would still v iolate the
accused’s rights under sections 7 and 11(d) of the Charter unless the
Court overrules Daviault. The fate of section 33.1–3 would then depend
on whether it can be justif‌ied as a rea sonable limit on the accused’s
rights. The restriction is de signed to aff‌irm responsibility for intoxicat-
ed violence and aff‌irm the r ights of those victimi zed by such violence.
It denies the accused the benef‌it of the Daviault defence of extreme
intoxication, but only with respect to general intent offences t hat in-
volve an assault or interference or threatened interference with bodily
4 Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s 33.1(3) [Code].

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