Abandonment (Defence)

From Criminal Law Notebook
This page was last substantively updated or reviewed May 2021. (Rev. # 95303)

General Principles

The defence of abandonment is available to accused liable as parties of an offence under s. 21(1) or 21(2), were two or more persons form a common intention to carry out an offence, such that they are not responsible for the offences committed by the other parties.

The purpose of this defence is to ensure that only those morally culpable are convicted and to encourage persons to withdraw from criminal activities and report them.[1]


The basic common law test requires:[2]

  1. there must be a change of intention and physical change of place;
  2. where practicable and reasonable, timely communication of the intention to abandon the common purpose to those who desire to continue in it.[3]
  3. communication, verbal or otherwise, must be unequivocal notice upon the other party such that if the other proceeds he does so without the further aid and assistance of those who withdraw.
  4. that the accused took, in a manner proportional to his or her participation in the commission of the planned offence, reasonable steps in the circumstances either to neutralize or otherwise cancel out the effects of his or her participation or to prevent the commission of the offence.[4]

What amounts to abandonment will depend on the circumstances of each case.[5]


Abandonment must occur before the offence takes place.[6]


A failure to provide clear and timely communication will likely defeat the defence.[7]

The manner of communicating the abandonment will depend on how deeply involved the accused was in the joint enterprise. The more peripheral the involvement the less express the language of behaviour needs to be.[8]


It is often necessary that that the accused testify to explain his intentions.[9]

Whether a person withdraws or abandons the offence is a question of fact.[10]


There is suggestion that abandonment may be available to those who are aiders or abetters.[11]

Specific Offences

Where group have jointly planned to commit rape and murder and the accused assisted in the initial part of the illegal plan but then leaves part way through does not abandon the offence and can still be convicted of murder.[12]

A party who abandons a planned robbery but was the one who provided the others with guns can be liable for the murder arising from the robbery.[13]

  1. R v Gauthier, 2013 SCC 32 (CanLII), [2013] 2 SCR 403, per Wagner J, at para 50
  2. R v KKP, 2006 ABCA 299 (CanLII), 213 CCC (3d) 530, per curiam, at para 12
    Gauthier, supra, at para 34 and 38 and 50
    R v SRB, 2009 ABCA 45 (CanLII), 243 CCC (3d) 419, per Berger JA, at para 10 reversed on appeal
  3. SRB, ibid., at para 24 per dissent, dissent aff'd on appeal R v Bird, 2009 SCC 60 (CanLII), 469 AR 185, per curiam ("change of intention on the part of the accused and, where practical and reasonable, a timely communication of the accused’s intention to abandon the common unlawful purpose")
  4. Gauthier, supra added this last element, see, at para 50
  5. KKP, supra, at para 12
  6. Miller, supra
    KKP, supra, at para 12
  7. e.g. KKP, supra, at para 14
    R v Miller, 1976 CanLII 12 (SCC), [1977] 2 SCR 680, per curiam at 708
    R v Fournier, 2002 NBCA 71 (CanLII), 173 CCC (3d) 566, per Larlee JA, at para 22
  8. SRB, supra, at para 19
  9. KKP, supra, at para 14
  10. KKP, supra, at para 11
  11. R v Ball, 2011 BCCA 11 (CanLII), 267 CCC (3d) 532, per Ryan J, at para 46
  12. R v SRB, 2009 ABCA 45 (CanLII), 243 CCC (3d) 419, per Berger JA overturned on appeal R v Bird, 2009 SCC 60 (CanLII), [2009] 3 SCR 638, per curiam
  13. R v Joyce, 1978 CanLII 2422 (BC CA), 42 CCC (2d) 141, per Hinkson JA

See Also