Supreme Court bars drunkenness defence in 2010 Brockville, Ont., arson case

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada says drunkenness isn’t a defence against a charge of arson and has ordered a new trial for a man who burned down his former girlfriend’s home in Brockville, Ont., in 2010.

Paul Tatton was drunk when he put oil in a pan, placed it on a stove and turned the burner to high before going to get coffee.

He claimed the subsequent fire, which destroyed the contents of the house,  was an accident and was acquitted at trial.

The Ontario Court of Appeal, with one dissenting justice, upheld the acquittal.

But the Supreme Court, in a 7-0 decision, says drunkenness is not a legitimate defence for arson.

Justice Michael Moldaver, writing for the court, says the lower courts were wrong.

“Intoxication short of automatism is not a defence to a charge of arson,” he wrote.

The trial judge determined that the arson charge was a “specific intent offence,” meaning that Tatton could rely on self-induced drunkenness as a defence.

The Crown argued in its appeal that arson is actually a “general intent” offence, meaning drunkenness isn’t a defence.

“I agree,” Moldaver wrote.

He said arson does not involve sophisticated reasoning, as the risk of damage by fire is obvious.

“I have difficulty seeing how intoxication short of automatism would prevent an accused from foreseeing the risk of causing damage to someone else’s property by fire,” he wrote. “Complex reasoning is not required to recognize the danger.”

The Canadian Press