From Criminal Law Notebook
This page was last substantively updated or reviewed January 2015. (Rev. # 85790)

General Principles

Certain offences in the Criminal Code require not only that the offender do a prohibited act along with the requisite mens rea, but also that the act caused a particular result. Criminal responsibility for causation must be established in fact and in law.[1] This makes a distinction between the physical, biological, or medical cause a particular result and the legal boundary that would attribute responsibility to the accused for the result.

The standard to prove causation is the same as between all homicide offences, including murder, manslaughter, operation of a motor vehicle causing death.[2] Likewise, the standard applies equally to offences involving bodily harm.

The criminal standard of causation in criminal matters is that the "accused's conduct be at least a contributing cause of the [result], outside the de minimis range"[3]

Criminal law does not include any issues of contributory negligence nor does it apportion responsibility for harm caused outside of sentencing.[4]

The inference of foreseeability can be rebutted with evidence of intoxication.[5]

  1. R v Nette, 2001 SCC 78 (CanLII), [2001] 3 SCR 488, per Arbour J, at para 44
  2. R v KL, 2009 ONCA 141 (CanLII), 248 OAC 260, per Watt JA, at para 17
  3. KL, supra, at para 17 citing:
    R v Smithers, 1977 CanLII 7 (SCC), [1978] 1 SCR 506, per Dickson J, at p. 519
    Nette, supra, at paras 71 and 72
  4. Nette, supra, at para 49
    KL, supra, at para 18
  5. R v Seymour, 1996 CanLII 201, [1996] 2 SCR 252, per Cory J, at para 23
    See R v Daley, 2007 SCC 53 (CanLII), [2007] 3 SCR 523, per Bastarache J for details on the law of intoxication

Offences where causation is an essential element

Causation by Offence

A person who intentionally stabs another person will generally be considered to have intended to cause bodily harm.[1]

  1. R v Abbaya, 2000 ABPC 202 (CanLII), 52 WCB (2d) 406, per Allen J, at para 76



A panic response to circumstances may render an act involuntary.[1]

  1. R v Leinen, 2013 ABCA 283 (CanLII), 301 CCC (3d) 1, per Hunt JA, at para 117

Case Digests

See Also