Killing Under the Influence

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Canada’s top court ruled this week that defendants charged with violent crimes can use extreme intoxication as a defense, a verdict that has raised concerns among women’s advocacy groups, Reuters reported.

The Supreme Court said that a 1995 federal law that banned the use of the defense was unconstitutional and violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The decision means that defendants accused of crimes such as homicide and sexual assault cannot be held criminally responsible because their actions were involuntary as a result of taking drugs or alcohol.

Justice Nicholas Kasirer said that parliament has additional options for addressing severe inebriated violence.

The ruling arose after judges were asked last year to review the constitutionality of the 1995 legislation in three separate cases. Following its decision, the Supreme Court said a trial can be ordered in one of the cases while respectively restoring and upholding acquittals in two others.

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said the government was reviewing the ruling, adding that the decision “does not apply to the vast majority of cases.”

The matter of extreme intoxication has divided Canadian courts but women’s rights groups worry that a law banning the use of such a defense is needed to protect women and children as violence disproportionately affects them.

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