Earlier this year, a man was convicted of manslaughter following the overdose death of a young woman in Winnipeg. The man was accused of providing the morphine pills that caused the woman’s death. The conviction, which is based on the assertion that the man’s selling the drugs caused the woman’s overdose, is believed to be the only one of its kind in Canada. An appeal of the conviction is expected.
Now Toronto police are treating two tragic overdose deaths at the recent VELD music festival as homicides. The drugs in question have not been identified, nor have any individuals suspected of selling the drugs. That police have started a homicide investigation under these circumstances is remarkable and rare. Let’s consider why.
Homicide and manslaughter convictions are founded on the assertion that an individual’s actions directly caused the death of another person. People are convicted of homicide if there is valid evidence that they knew their actions would likely result in someone’s death. However, the Crown would generally have a difficult time proving that a drug seller was aware that a drug would cause a buyer’s death. After all, the seller may not be able to control how many doses a buyer takes at once.
However, if there is evidence that a seller knowingly or intentionally sold a drug that posed an obvious risk of injury or death to the buyer, then the manslaughter or homicide charge against the seller may be stronger. To convict a person in such a case, the Crown must meet a high standard of proof, and prosecutors tend to stop short of violent crime charges when a person has been accused of selling drugs that caused an overdose.
Our criminal defence site has more on addressing drug-related charges.
Source: MetroNews Canada, “VELD deaths: Police have precedent for charging drug dealers with homicide in overdoses,” Jessica Smith Cross, Aug. 6, 2014
Global News, “Homicide investigation launched after two die at Veld Music Festival,” Aug. 5, 2014