Calgary

Alberta court strikes down self-induced intoxication defence in case of naked magic mushroom attack

The Alberta Court of Appeal has overturned the acquittal of a former Calgary university student who attacked a woman after breaking into her home while naked and high on mushrooms.

Matthew Brown must now go back before the trial judge to be sentenced

Matthew Brown, left, was naked and high on magic mushrooms when he broke into the Calgary home of Janet Hamnett, right, and beat her badly with a broom handle. He was acquitted in 2020, but on Thursday, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal and substituted a conviction. (Meghan Grant/CBC, Mount Royal University)

The Alberta court of Appeal has overturned the acquittal of a former Calgary university student who attacked a woman after breaking into her home while naked and high on mushrooms.

Matthew Brown is now guilty of aggravated assault against Janet Hamnett.

At a pre-trial hearing in 2019, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Willie deWit struck down legislation that prohibits accused people from using the defence of self-induced intoxication automatism in crimes of violence. 

That allowed the defence to be used at trial, after which, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Michele Hollins acquitted, finding Brown did not have the requisite intent to be found guilty. 

The decision caught the attention of the legal community as it was believed to be the only one in Canada involving a successful defence of extreme intoxication while on magic mushrooms.

'Who is to be held responsible?'

But on Thursday, the province's top court ruled that Brown must be held accountable for his choice to consume alcohol and magic mushrooms.

"[Parliament] has chosen to hold people criminally responsible for violence arising from self-induced intoxication in a particular context and to deter people from such intoxication because it might lead to violence," wrote Justice Ritu Khullar in her decision.

The panel of three judges ruled Brown must bear the consequences of taking illegal drugs "in reckless disregard of the possible risks."

"Who is to be held responsible for this? The respondent essentially says 'no one,'" wrote Justice Frans Slatter. 

"But is it not obvious that it is the respondent who is responsible because he is the one who voluntarily consumed the magic mushrooms, in the face of the objective risk of the effect they could have on him? His victim should not be the only one who suffers the consequences of his voluntary choices."

The case will go back before Hollins for sentencing.

Victim's family pleased

Hamnett's daughter Lara Unsworth said the family is pleased with the appeal court's decision.

"This is a positive outcome for so many people who have been victimized and feel that no one has been held accountable because of this loophole," wrote Unsworth. "We are so appreciative of the judge's thoughtful comments surrounding this case, especially around a person having the right to not be attacked in their own home, and that there should be consequences for bad decision-making.

"Victims deserve to feel heard and that justice has been served."

Defence lawyer Sean Fagan said he will appeal to the Supreme Court.

"To say that we are disappointed in the result would be a gross understatement," said Fagan in a written statement. 

"Bottom line: I hope to have our appeal heard, and the decision overturned in the Supreme Court of Canada, by October of this year."

Brown was drunk and high

Brown grew up in Truro, N.S., playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before moving to Calgary to study and captain Mount Royal University's team.

In January 2018, Brown was a student at MRU, where the victim works as a public relations professor — which police said was a coincidence.

On the night of the attack, Brown was drinking with friends in the southwest community of Springbank Hill, near the victim's home. Brown had 14 to 18 alcoholic drinks that night. 

The friends then began taking magic mushrooms. 

Around 3:45 a.m., the group noticed Brown was standing at the front door, naked. Then he ran out the door. 

Minutes later, Hamnett — who lived alone — woke to a loud noise.

Janet Hamnett was badly beaten in January 2018 when Matthew Brown broke into her home. She suffered broken bones in her hand. (Court exhibit)

Suddenly, Brown was in her bedroom with a broken broom handle and began hitting the professor, who was in her 60s.

Hamnett's hands took the brunt of the beating as she used them to protect her head while on the floor of her bedroom.

When Brown suddenly stopped and walked out of the home, Hamnett, who'd been bloodied, ran to a neighbour's for help. 

Brown was eventually arrested at another neighbour's home.

Hamnett suffered broken bones in one of her hands. 

During the trial, a doctor who specializes in forensic toxicology said Brown had likely experienced an episode of delirium where he was unaware of his surroundings and may have suffered delusions and hallucinations.

Brown has always been remorseful and has apologized twice, in court and outside the courthouse after his acquittal. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach her at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCMeg.

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