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Intoxication should not be an excuse

You see it all the time in pop culture: a character in a TV show or movie has a few drinks or smokes some drugs and the inhibitions fall. There’s flirting and innuendo and the scene is played for laughs.

The reality, of course, is extremely serious. Research from the World Health Organization shows that victims in one-third to more than half of cases of men’s violence against women say their abuser was drinking before the attack. That’s not to say things were fine when there were no alcohol or drugs present, but study after study shows that men who are intoxicated are more likely to hurt women.

The federal government tried to address this problem back in 1995 when Justice Minister Allan Rock introduced Bill C-72, saying, “The time has come for us to speak directly of such matters and to recognize that women are not equal in this society…[and] one of the symptoms of that inequality is the extent to which they are victims of violence… and alcohol is very much tied up in that.”

That provision in the Criminal Code has been challenged again and again, often by men who had attacked women while intoxicated. Although they had chosen to consume alcohol or drugs, they argued they were not responsible for their actions while drunk or high. One common defence has become known as “automatism” — a state where someone is so intoxicated he has no control over what he did.

On June 3, Ontario’s top court threw out the provision that banned the use of intoxication as a defence, saying it was unconstitutional. One of the two men who successfully challenged the provision had stabbed his mother after he overdosed, thinking she was an alien. (She survived.)

Women’s Resources echoes the outcry being raised all over Canada at this decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal. Over and over again, our staff see the effects of the violence men commit while intoxicated against the women and children in their lives. Whether these men have underlying mental health needs, or are long-time abusers whose rage is unleashed when drunk, or whether they are guys on the street “misreading signals” from an unwilling woman because they feel randy after one too many tokes — whatever level of responsibility they may have had disappears because they can claim they were too intoxicated to know they had crossed a line.

Of course everyone deserves a fair trial. Of course people do stupid things when they’re under the influence. But why is that same level of concern not extended to those who are victimized by men who chose to drink but not to be accountable for what follows?

Women’s Resources joins the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres in upholding the right of survivors of sexual assault. We encourage you to sign this petition started by NDP MPP Jill Andrew, which urges the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General to appeal the court’s decision.

By Nancy Payne