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jeudi 26 février 2015

The Difference Between Voluntary and Intentional Acts

By Sarah D. Pinsonnault

In order to be found guilty of contempt of court, the party alleging contempt must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged contemnor voluntarily committed the act which was prohibited by the terms of a court order (actus reus) and that he had the intention to knowingly and wilfully do so (mens rea). In Stoyanova c. Disques Mile End, 2015 QCCA 317, the Appellant in part submits that the trial judge erred in law by conflating her analysis of actus reus with her analysis of mens rea. More specifically, the Appellant contends that the trial judge misinterpreted the actus reus criterion by associating it with the term voluntarily (“volontairement”); a term she claims is reserved for the mens rea analysis. In order to properly address this issue on appeal, the Court of Appeal first had to clarify the difference between acts that are committed “voluntarily” versus those that are committed “intentionally”.

Given that an allegation of contempt of court is a matter of criminal (or at least quasi-criminal) nature, the Court of Appeal turned to the Supreme Court of Canada decision involving criminal proceedings, R. v. Penno, [1990] 2 SCR 865, that shed some light on this topic. First and foremost, this decision recognized that voluntariness pertains to the actus reus, and not the mens rea, of an offence.  In terms of the actus reus requirement, the Supreme Court noted that criminal law distinguishes between acts that are carried out consciously and those that are purely physical, committed somewhat by accident. In order to meet the actus reus test, the intent behind the act need not be proven. Instead, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was aware of what he was doing. That being said, the accused may have committed the act voluntarily (actus reus), but that does not mean he did so intentionally (mens rea) and in that case the test for criminal responsibility thus fails. The example given by the Supreme Court of Canada in this decision is that of a woman who shoots what she believes to be an intruder inside her home; only to later realise that it was her husband who arrived home early. Her act was clearly volitional but she certainly did not intend to shoot her husband.

Having clarified this issue, the Court of Appeal then ruled that the trial judge did not make an error of law by using the term “voluntarily” in her analysis of the actus reus requirement. It did however acknowledge that a certain level of confusion may have arisen from her occasional use of the term “intention” in this analysis. Nevertheless, this misapprehension was found to be irrelevant to the matter at hand:

“[16] Le caractère volontaire des actes ou omissions imputés à l’intimée ne pose pas de réel problème en l’espèce, puisque la juge reconnaît d’entrée de jeu que, d’une part, Mile End connaissait bien les ordonnances pour avoir expressément consenti à leur prononcé, et que, d’autre part, elle n’a jamais prétendu que les actes ou omissions qu’on lui reproche étaient accidentels ou tributaires d’une quelconque inconscience.
[17] La juge a conclu qu’il n’y avait pas matière à condamnation parce que Mme Stoyanova n’aurait pas fait la preuve hors de tout doute raisonnable de l’actus reus et de la mens rea.”
The Court of Appeal then went on to review the second issue raised in this appeal, that being the actus reus requirement. It noted that the trial judge found the efforts employed by the Respondent, Les Disques Mile End, revealed that it sought to comply with, and not violate, the terms of the court order. Since there was no manifest or palpable error committed by the trial judge, the Court of Appeal was bound to its duty to not interfere with her findings and conclusions of fact. Ultimately, it concluded as follows:  

“[42] En conclusion, tenant pour acquis que la présence sur le marché de copies numériques des titres visés établissait l’actus reus, il n’y a pas de preuve hors de tout doute raisonnable de l’existence de la mens rea. Cela suffit à sceller le sort du pourvoi.
[43] Je propose en conséquence de rejeter l’appel, mais sans frais compte tenu des circonstances.”

To read this decision in its entirety and other elements discussed therein, click here

1 commentaire:

  1. Ca reflete assez bien le raisonnement classique en droit criminel. Géneralement, on dit que le terme "volontairement" est associé a un crime d'intention générale. Ce qui est intéressant dans cette décision, c'est que le terme volontairement est spécifiquement associée a l'actus reus par opposition a la mens rea.

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