Alberta Judge Michele Hollins delivered a truly horrifying court decision this week, one that we feel must go to the Supreme Court of Canada, or risk setting back Canadian law by decades.
The case is pretty straightforward, and so, one would have thought, would be a guilty verdict. Instead, Matthew Brown got an absolute gift of an acquittal that leaves us afraid for the future of justice in this country.
Brown, now 29, was a student at Mount Royal University when he drank and got high one night on magic mushrooms, voluntarily, and proceeded to strip naked, break into professor Janet Hamnett’s home, and violently beat her with a broom handle until she was able to escape.
His defence? He was too high to be held responsible for his actions. And oh, he’s actually a really nice guy and he’s really sorry. And he hadn’t had a bad reaction when he did magic mushrooms before.
In what world is this man acquitted? Hamnett has permanent physical damage to one hand from the attack, not to mention the psychological trauma.
What if he’d killed her? Or raped her? Or cut off an appendage? Would he still have been acquitted, because being high made it not his fault?
The bottom line is that he chose to become so intoxicated, and he’s responsible for what he did while in that state. Legal decisions have reflected this view in the past. We don’t let drunk drivers who kill someone off the hook because they were drunk behind the wheel.
Our justice system cannot start allowing criminals to get away with their crimes as long as they’re high or drunk enough. It would lead to anarchy, and a country we don’t want to live in. We’d argue there’s clearly an element of white, middle class privilege happening here as well. We cannot imagine such a verdict for a First Nations man, or a black man, or an immigrant. Or a homeless drug addict. Someone who’s not the captain of a hockey team.
This case must be appealed, all the way to Canada’s top court if necessary. Intoxication is not a defence.