SUDBURY -- Women's rights advocates are disappointed with a decision this week to strike down a decades-old law that prevented suspects from using the so-called drunk defence.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled it was unconstitutional and trampled on key rights of the accused.

Laurentian University political scientist Nadia Verrelli is currently working on a book centred around violence against women.

"I was disappointed in the decision and definitely taken aback," said Verrelli. "When this law was passed in 1995, it was a good law. It encouraged women and gave women a safe space to report crimes against women and this does set us back."

Verrelli said the case doesn't deal with women specifically, but given the increase in domestic violence since the start of the pandemic, it's women who will be disproportionately affected.

"The standards aren't the same," she said. "What angers me is we don't seem to blink when it comes to drinking and driving. Everyone knows that you can't drink and drive, it's against the law and if you get behind the wheel intoxicated and you end up hurting someone, end up killing someone you're charged with a crime, full stop.

"The same has to apply when you're talking about voluntary intoxication and you end up assaulting a woman ... there has to be accountability."

"I think this is a really dangerous decision, especially when it comes to university sexual assaults," said Katlyn Kotila, a Laurentian University student who organized a consent event for fellow students earlier this year.

"When announcing the decision, the court said this is something that's not often used as a defence, but I think it's a dangerous precedent to be setting, especially when it comes to sexual assault."

Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas and her NDP caucus colleagues are collecting signatures on a petition to have decision appealed.

"I thought we were past this and I'm not happy with the decision," Gelinas said. "I'm not a judge, but I'm letting him know that I'm not happy with the decision and so are tens of thousands of other Ontarians."

Her colleague, Jill Andrew, has a petition that already has more than 165,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.

"There is no reason that justifies sexually assaulting a woman, none in my book," Gelinas said. "How it could be that the judge rules like this? I don't know."

"I'm really disappointed, especially on the impact this will have women," said Melody Rose, executive director of Maplegate House in Elliot Lake. "We already have a huge issue with violence against women, this just perpetuates it.

"Why we would remove the accountability piece? Why would they make this decision? Yes, you may be fully intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, but you chose to take them, you chose to take the amount which made you incomprehensible, so that is your decision and your actions should still be on you."

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association tells CTV says it sympathizes with concerns raised, but added the decision only clarifies the legal situation around the use of the intoxication defence.

The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General tells CTV News Toronto the decision is being 'carefully reviewed.'


With files from Kayla Goodfield.