The Problem with the News
I know I’m not alone when I say that quarantine has pushed Gen Z to a new level of boredom we didn’t think possible. With our whole world being put on hold, the internet has become the asset we depend upon to stay connected. Social media is booming, and it can be overwhelming to scroll through Instagram these days. Needless to say, 2020 has proven to be a news outlet’s paradise. In the face of tragedy, this year has also been a groundbreaking year influencing social change and unity, so it is no surprise that articles are being published at a record pace. However, there was one headline that caught my eye on June 3rd, and I’m sure you saw it too. In just a few hours, this jaw-dropping article made its way across Ontario, drumming up plenty of publicity and leaving readers livid: “Ontario court throws out law barring self-induced intoxication as defence for sexual assault.”
At first glance, I was left at a loss for words. To think this was happening in my province, my home. It was clear that this frustration was shared among many of my friends and classmates as we discussed Ontario’s newest appeal. I was so angry; I couldn’t believe that being drunk could act as a defense to sexual assault in court. It seemed impossible. So, I decided to look a little further into this ruling to decipher what it really means for our province. After many conversations and late-night Google searches, I believe I now have a better idea as to how this appeal will come to play in future court cases. And hopefully, as a result of this piece, you will too.
I want to preface this by saying that it is still impossible to use being drunk as defence to sexual assault, even after the appeal in early June. In fact, neither of the cases brought up in court involved alcohol or sexual assault. If you read the article, you will see that the ruling is really dealing with murder and violent acts caused by automatism. Now, what is automatism? This is when someone becomes so intoxicated that their mind and body are completely out of their control. There are two types: insane automatism and sane automatism.
Caused by one ‘disease of the mind’ or ‘mental impairment’. However, someone cannot claim that this impairment was due to a moment of stupidity or passion; it means that they are in complete delusion. Nonetheless, insane automatism is very hard to prove in court, therefore this type of defence is rare. In order for insane automatism to even be considered in a case, the accused would have to have a testimony of their state from a forensic toxicologist. Again, this kind of diagnosis is scarce and only happens in the most unique occasions. For instance, automatism could be brought up if the crime was caused by an episode of epilepsy.
Also rare, this refers to when someone has no control over their mind or body, but NOT due to mental impairment. A prime example would be that the accused was sleepwalking.
Automatism due to consumption of alcohol, drugs, and other substances is an entirely different story. The court considers automatism and intoxication to be separate issues. In the Ontario court, it was explained that it is virtually impossible for alcohol to get you to the state of extreme intoxication that this ruling suggests. However, this ruling is one that is very complex and has many grey areas, so it is no wonder that it has sparked public backlash.
So why was this law questioned and thrown out?
The idea of punishing people for acts that they are not morally responsible for contradicts the principles of fundamental justice. When this law was thrown out, the court brought up two unique cases of automatism, which you can read here. In these examples, both men relied on “non-mental disorder automatism” to help their case.
Possibly the biggest concern here is the misinterpretation of the case as was reported through mainstream media. It raises an important question: are court decisions clear to the public? Canadian lawyers have expressed their concerns that these misleading headlines will discourage victims of sexual assault to come forward. Despite the conditions of the ruling, a victim is still a victim, no matter what. The petition to appeal, now with over 300,000 signatures, says that
“The Ontario Court of Appeal decision flies in the face of some of the progress made by the #MeToo movement.”
In addition, the public explained that people could be more inclined to consume alcohol before committing a crime thinking it would provide them security in court. As a whole, this decision provoked necessary conversation among Ontariens about sexual assault and the reliability of our sources.
We always get taught, in school and at home, not to believe everything we hear in the news, and yet, major media outlets still seem to fool me everytime. It is these types of titles that should be looked at as a step back for our generation. If there is one thing I have learned in the pandemic, it is that education is key. We are in a constant state of unlearning and relearning, and reliable mainstream news sources are crucial to that process. If we want to have educated and relevant conversations then the standard we hold for news outlets must change. We must be better!
If you are interested in signing the petition to have this decision appealed, click here.
**This article will be updated regularly as more information of the court case is released.