B. The Distinction between General And Specific Intent Offences

Author:Kent Roach
Profession:Faculty of Law and Centre of Criminology. University of Toronto

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Courts in England and Canada have taken the reference in Beard to "forming the specific intent essential to commit the crime" as drawing a distinction between crimes of specific intent and those of general intent. It is arguable, however, that the word "specific" was used in Beard only to refer to the particular crime, and not to a distinct category of offences. No reference is made in Beard to "general intent" offences as a category of offences distinct from "specific intent" offences. Moreover, the relevance of intoxication to rape was considered even though that offence has subsequently been classified as a general intent offence. Nevertheless, Beard has been interpreted in England and Canada as establishing a distinction between crimes of specific and general intent, with intoxication traditionally being a defence only with respect to the former.

In R. v. George, the Supreme Court held that robbery was a specific intent offence to which drunkenness was relevant, but assault was

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a general intent offence to which evidence of intoxication was rarely, if ever, relevant. Fauteux J. explained: "In considering the question of mens rea, a distinction is to be made between (i) intention as applied to acts considered in relation to their purposes and (ii) intention as applied to acts apart from their purposes."5Robbery fell into the first category because it required the application of force in order to facilitate the taking of property, while assault fell into the second category because it required only the minimal intent required for the application of force without consent. Ritchie J. similarly distinguished between "intention" as applied to acts done to achieve an immediate end on the one hand and acts done with the specific and ulterior motive and intention of furthering or achieving an illegal object on the other hand. Illegal acts of the former kind are done "intentionally" in the sense that they are not done by accident or through honest mistake, but acts of the latter kind are the product of preconception and deliberate steps taken towards an illegal goal.6In the result, the intoxicated accused was acquitted of robbery, but convicted of the included offence of assault.

In R. v. Bernard,7MCINTYRE J. stressed that specific intent offences require the mind to focus on an objective further to the immediate one at hand, while general intent offences require only a conscious doing of the prohibited act. In that case, the...

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