CHAPTER 3 – Actus Reus: Causation
Crown must prove both of both elements to get conviction.
o Factual Causation an inquiry about how the victim came to his or her death, in a medical, mechanical or physical sense and
with the contribution of the accused to that result
Can be decided by asking whether the prohibited consequences would not have happened “but for” the conduct of
o Legal Causation question of whether the accused should be held responsible in law for the crime
Around the fairness of holding an accused person criminally responsible.
Often can be determined by asking whether the prohibited consequences were foreseeable. – even if the accused
did not intend to bring such consequences about
Definition of dead = “A person is dead when an irreversible cessation of all that person’s brain functions has occurred”
More than One Cause of Death
“Thin-skull” rule = “one takes one’s victims as one finds them.” Person will be convicted of homicide even if their conduct was not
the sole cause of death. Conduct must be a significant contribution to the victim’s ultimate demise.
Smithers case (1977) (manslaughter) - Accused kicked Cobby, vomited. He died due to foreign materials in vomit.
o Smithers test of causation = accused’s conduct must be a contributing cause, “outside the de minimis range” = must have had
more than a minimal impact.
Harbottle case(1993) = one man strangle, one man held legs, together killed the victim
o made more restrictive test of causation for first-degree murder accused’s action must form a substantial and integral part of
the killing of the victim
Nette case (2001), old lady lived alone, robbers tied her, after they left, she fell off bed and died from asphyxiation
o SCC reaffirmed Smithers’ test of causation and ruled that it applied to all homicides offences other than specific types of first
o Re-worded test so easier to understand = “Significant contributing cause” rather than using expressions phrased in the
negative such as not a trivial cause or not insignificant
SECTION 226 Acceleration of Death = is criminally responsible even if injury only accelerated death from other causes.
o Must have intent If the intent of the doctor is to relieve pain and suffering and not kill the patient, then the fact that death is
incidentally hastened by the administration of a pain-killing drug does not render the physician criminally responsible.
o Active Euthanasia = Deliberately taking steps to terminate the life of another person
Is a crime. (Eg mercy killing, injective of lethal drug )
o Passive Euthanasia = Withdrawing treatment and permitting a patient to die from a disease
Is not considered to be a crime (everyone has right to refuse treatment)
SECTION 241 Assisted Suicide – indictable offence to counsel/aid a person to commit suicide
o Purpose is the protection of vulnerable who might be induced in moments of weakness to commit suicide
o SCC- prohibition of assisted suicide section 241 of the Criminal Code is not invalid in light of the Charter
Intervening Act = Occurs between the defendant’s original wounding of the victim and the latter’s subsequent death
NOT GUILTY -> If Intervening Act breaks chain of causation
IS GUILTY -> Intervening Act/Event that would not have caused death, but for accused’s conduct
o Can victim’s death from external event be viewed as a ‘natural consequences’ of the accused’s action?
o Crown must establish is that the victim's death from the IA was foreseeable by the accused
o Consequences of action continued up to the time of death, even without interruption, would have significant causal effect to
SECTION 224 Victim’s refusal of life-saving treatment does not break the chain of causation.
o Accused does not have an automatic defence to a murder or manslaughter charge just because death "might have been
prevented by resorting to proper means."
SECTION 225 Improper medical treatment = If improper medical treatment was applied in good faith, will generally not sever the chain
Causing Death by Acting on the Victim’s Mind
SECTION 222 Culpable homicide when causing a human to cause his own death, by threats/fear of violence/deception
o Eg A threatens to assault B with no route of escape, B is terrified and jumps off a building, A is guilty
SECTION 228 No person commits culpable homicide where he causes the death of a human being
a. By any influence on the mind alone
b. By any disorder or disease resulting from influence on the mind alone, ** except causes death to child/sick person by WILLFULLY
Powder (1981) A breaks in, scares B, struggle and B dies from ‘fear and emotional stress’, physical attack did not contribute
to death, thus victim died of ‘influence on mind alone’ not guilty
Rusland (1992) A attacks B, B dies due to stress in situation and had previous heart problems, however A actually knew
about dangerous health condition, thus he ‘wilfully frightened him to death’ guilty