May 21, 2022

North York Women’s Shelter Statement on the Supreme Court of Canada’s Extreme Intoxication Ruling

May 21st, 2022, Toronto – On May 13, 2022, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that extreme intoxication that produces a psychotic state can be a defence against violent crimes such as sexual assaults and stabbings because the law that bans it is unconstitutional.

At first glance, we were alarmed by the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling and the potential implications on a survivor’s right to justice. However, after listening to experts who understand and support survivors as they navigate the legal system, NYWS has come to understand that this ruling does not mean that individuals who are simply drunk or high will be able to deflect accountability and criminal responsibility. The term “extreme intoxication” is a legal term that requires concrete evidence and expert testimonial of “psychotic, delusional, and involuntary conduct.”

One point must be clarified upon further research- specifically listening to legal experts such as the Women’s Legal Education Fund. In their statement, Kat Owens, project director at Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, stated: “Drunkenness has never been, and is not now, a defence to sexual assault.”

There is validity in the alarm bells that have been sounding across the VAW sector as the ripple effect this will have on survivors was undetermined. We too, were concerned. As one of Toronto’s oldest VAW shelters, North York Women’s Shelter understands that survivors of violence have a long and complex history with all institutions- intersectional identities such as racialized, immigrant, newcomer, refugee, low-income, queer, gender-diverse are often subjected to further harm by legal bodies and institutions that are meant to protect them. As a VAW shelter, North York Women’s Shelter understands the roots of the implicit mistrust of institutions and as an anti-racist, anti-oppression, trauma-informed organization- we understand the validity of this mistrust. We must hold our governments and institutions accountable. It’s why we will watch closely to see exactly how this impacts survivors when they are pursuing justice within the Canadian judicial system.

North York Women’s Shelter will always stand by survivors, listen to survivors, and support them on their journey to a life free of violence. Regarding this Supreme Court of Canada ruling, we will continue to listen, think critically, and ensure that we do our part to serve survivors including unpacking complex and difficult legal decisions to ensure we understand what information we are providing them.


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