Psychedelics and Automatism

“No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong”


He was a student and Captain of Mount Royal University’s hockey team – but that changed on January 13, 2018, after taking a large dose of magic mushrooms.

Shortly after ingesting 4 grams of mushrooms at a house party, Matthew Brown took off all of his clothing and disappeared into the freezing night. Eventually, he came upon the home of a Mount Royal University professor that he had never met before. He broke into her home and beat her with a broken broom handle, leaving her with severe injuries. After leaving her residence, he broke into another home where he was eventually apprehended by the police. 

On March 2, 2020, he was acquitted after mounting a successful defence of “non-insane automatism” resulting from severe self-intoxication.

Mr. Brown was acquitted and walked out of court a free man. His actions were found to be involuntary – but not by reason of mental disorder. His defence of non-insane automatism resulting from severe self-intoxication was only available after a pre-trial ruling in which a judge found that Section 33.1 of the Criminal Code, prohibiting self-intoxication as a defence, was unconstitutional.

Non-insane automatism and insane automatism both involve an Accused person that was unaware of the consequences of their actions at the time of the offence, and therefore could not form intent required to prosecute the offence.

In Mr. Brown’s case, his automatism ended when the effects of the drugs wore off, and he was left with no memory of the event. Since his actions were not attributed to a disease that would have recurring symptoms, a Not Criminally Responsible according to Mental Disorder (NCRMD) finding would have been inappropriate.

A finding of NCRMD relates to automatism as a consequence of a mental disorder. Unlike automatism resulting from intoxication, it does not result in an acquittal. NCRMD is most commonly seen in cases where an Accused suffers from severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. Across Canada, the number of Accused deemed NCRMD is small, however, media attention on these particular cases often results in public outrage.

After a judge has determined that an Accused is NCRMD, the case is usually handed over to the Review Board (governed by Province/Territory) where there are three possible outcomes:

  • Absolute Discharge
  • Conditional Discharge
  • Detention in a hospital

While most cases do end up under the authority of the Review Board, the Court of hearing has the discretion to proceed to disposition if it feels appropriate in the circumstances. If the Court orders an Absolute Discharge (the only available option when the Accused has been found not to pose a significant risk to the public), the matter is concluded. If the Court orders a conditional discharge, or detention in a hospital, the Review Board must review the matter again with 90 days. In any circumstance, the Court or Review Board must impose whichever sentence is the least onerous and least restrictive on the Accused, all while balancing protection of the public and the interests, liberty and dignity of the Accused. There have been success stories, (which may again cause unnecessary alarm to the public) that demonstrate how effective rehabilitation of mentally ill offenders is far from hopeless. It is also important to note that the statistics surrounding NCRMD cases show that the prevalence of an NCRMD finding in relation to violent offences are low. 

Justice via Vigilante – Justice Denied, Reward Scanty

Justice via Vigilante – Justice Denied, Reward Scanty

A vigilante group based out of Surrey, B.C., has been making headlines lately for their efforts in identifying and publicizing child predators to the media via video. It’s a spin-off of Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator”.

The videos, which are publicly posted to the group’s Facebook and Youtube accounts, display the real-time encounters had between members of the group and the individual that they have led there with false promises of sexual relations with an underage person, after chatting online about it.

The encounters are brief, lasting only a few minutes at most. The exchange between the two parties consists of accusations from one side, and flat out denials from the other. The subject of the Creep Catcher’s “investigation” attempts to shield his face before turning and running in the other direction, continually denying the allegations. What happens beyond that point is unknown.

From what I’ve seen, the public seems to be pleased with the endeavors of Creep Catchers. The videos certainly provide shock value – generally, the public does not play a role in, or even have the opportunity to witness the apprehension of a suspected pedophile – and for good reason.

The investigations that are conducted with respect to these offences are complex, calculated and require significant resources and manpower. The Integrated Child Exploitation Unit of the RCMP works with Interpol and police agencies around the world to gather, sort, and analyze information that advances their efforts in identifying, charging, and convicting individuals of child-related offences such as the Possession and Distribution of Child Pornography.

There are tactical strategies that require a high degree of skill and experience to be carried out effectively. The process of gathering evidence before an arrest and charge approval is paramount to the success of the investigation – in cases like these, proper identification of the suspect can take a significant amount of time. And this is where the work done by the RCMP and the work done by Creep Catchers become astoundingly diverse. Creep Catchers does not have the resources, funding, experience or skill to be meddling in these matters. There are several risks that come to mind:

1) Meeting these individuals in a public place, at a busy time of day, poses a serious risk to innocent bystanders in the area. Creep Catchers does not know if the individuals they are liaising with are violent or mentally ill. Innocent people could be caught in the cross-hairs of an encounter that quickly gets out of hand;

2) The police may already be conducting an investigation on an individual who has been sought out by Creep Catchers. This could lead to that entire investigation collapsing;

3) The very real possibility that they may wrongfully accuse someone of these crimes. The repercussions of being wrongfully blamed could be permanent. It is extremely difficult to exonerate someone on such allegations.

While their intentions may be good, the ends do not justify the means. This work is best left to the police.

Accessing, distributing, and making child pornography available are some of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code. There are new mandatory minimum jail sentences for these offences, details of which can be found here. Aside from a custodial sentence, someone convicted of one of these offences will almost definitely be required to register as a sex offender, which comes with lifelong consequences.

Our offices frequently handle cases with similar allegations. If you have been charged with one of these offences, contact our office to retain a criminal lawyer who can assist in navigating you through the criminal justice system with your best interests in mind.