McLeod, a 17 year old, was involved in a fight at a gas station. A police officer, wearing plain clothes, tried to stop the fight and pushed McLeod violently aside. The police officer announced he was an officer, however no one in the area heard him make this declaration. McLeod got back up and punched the officer in the face, at which point the officer drew his service revolver and knocked McLeod back with it and the fight dispersed. McLeod was charged under s. 296(b) (now s. 270(1)) of the Criminal Code but was acquitted at trial and the Crown appealed.
- Is it required that an alleged offender know an individual is a peace officer to be guilty under s. 296(b) (now s. 270(1)) of the Criminal Code?
At trial, the magistrate considered that knowledge that the person being assaulted was a police officer was an essential element of the offense. As he was satisfied at trial that McLeod did not have this knowledge, McLeod was acquitted at trial.
The Crown's appeal, having to be on a question of law, appealed on the reading of the section saying that mens rea is not an essential element of the offense. O'Halloran, writing for the Court, held that it must be found as a fact that the individual knowingly intended to assault the peace officer and that he would have continued to do so if he had known. The argument that the Crown advanced that the statute should be read using a "strict liability" theory was rejected on a reading of the section. The court held that if the section does not mention "knowingly" then the Crown exhausts its burden when it proves the action and there may be a presumption of mens rea, but that does not limit the accused from raising doubt to that proposition.
There may be a presumption of mens rea in a particular section of the Code, however it is always open as a defence to cast doubt on that presumption.