Prue and Baril were both charged under s.238(3) (now s.259(4)) of the Code, which prohibits anyone from driving without a license. They had had their licenses revoked via an automatic suspension under the Motor Vehicles Act. They drove after their licenses had been suspended, but they did not know that their licenses had been suspended. They were convicted at trial, but their appeal was allowed, which the Crown appealed.
- Is driving while disqualified an absolute liability offence, or does it require mens rea?
Laskin, writing for the majority, held that this was a mens rea offence, and as it is clear that the respondents did not know that their licenses had been revoked, they could not be convicted. He states that despite the decision in R v Sault Ste. Marie, there is still a presumption that all crimes in the Code require mens rea. Further, the fact that this crime adds a penal sanction to a provincial statute means that it must be criminal law – which is assumed to require mens rea. As the respondants did not have the necessary fault requirements, they must be acquitted.
Ritchie, in dissent, argues that this is at least a strict liability offence, even if it is not an absolute liability offence. Therefore the Crown does not need to prove mens rea, and as the respondents do not have a valid excuse for not knowing that their licenses had been revoked they must be convicted. They said that their lack of knowledge concerning the suspension of their licenses resulted from the ignorance of the law, and not a mistake in fact; therefore, it is no defence.
There is a presumption that all crimes in the Code are mens rea offences unless otherwise implied.