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R v. Thatcher, (1987) 1 SCR 652

Facts:Appellant was arrested and charged with causing the death of his exwife. On January 21, 1983, appellant's exwife was ferociously beaten and then shot to death. At trial, the Crown led direct and circumstantial evidence to prove that the appellant had personally murdered his exwife or, alternatively, that he aided or abetted the killer and was therefore guilty as a party to the offence pursuant to s. 21 of the Criminal Code. The bulk of the evidence tendered by the Crown was consistent with either theory. In defense, appellant adduced alibi evidence and denied any involvement in the killing.



In his charge, the trial judge instructed the jurors that the appellant could be found guilty of murder if they were satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the principal offender or a party to the offence under s. 21 of the Code. He explained briefly the position of the defense and spent considerable time summarizing the Crown's evidence. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder contrary to s. 218 of the Code. The majority of the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal. He appealed to this Court.

Held: The appeal should be dismissed.

There was an evidentiary foundation to justify putting to the jury the Crown's alternative theory that appellant was a party to the offence under s. 21, rather than a principal. Where an accused is being tried alone and there is evidence that more than one person was involved in the commission of the offence, it is also appropriate for the trial judge to direct the jury with respect to the provisions of s. 21 of the Code, even though the identity of the other participant or participants is unknown and even though the precise part played by each participant may be uncertain. Here, there was very strong evidence connecting appellant with the crime. There was also some evidence, which, if believed, indicated that he did not commit the crime personally. The facts were for the jury, and the trial judge was correct not to preclude the jury from considering all the alternatives.

Per Dickson C.J. and Beetz, Estey, Wilson and Le Dain JJ. Section 21(1) of the Criminal Code is designed to make the difference between aiding and abetting and personally committing an offence legally irrelevant. It provides that either mode of committing an offence is equally culpable and, indeed, that whether a person personally commits or only aids and abets, he is guilty of that offence‑‑in this case, murder‑‑and not some separate distinct offence. There is no need for the Crown to specify in the charge the nature of an accused's participation in the offence. Where there is evidence before a jury that points to an accused either committing a crime personally or, alternatively, aiding and abetting another to commit the offence, provided the jury is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did one or the other, it is a matter of indifference which alternative actually occurred. It follows that s. 21 precludes a requirement of jury unanimity as to the particular nature of the accused's participation in the offence. · R v. Thatcher, (1987) 1 SCR 652

{C}· {C}Facts:Appellant was arrested and charged with causing the death of his exwife. On January 21, 1983, appellant's exwife was ferociously beaten and then shot to death. At trial, the Crown led direct and circumstantial evidence to prove that the appellant had personally murdered his exwife or, alternatively, that he aided or abetted the killer and was therefore guilty as a party to the offence pursuant to s. 21 of the Criminal Code. The bulk of the evidence tendered by the Crown was consistent with either theory. In defense, appellant adduced alibi evidence and denied any involvement in the killing.



In his charge, the trial judge instructed the jurors that the appellant could be found guilty of murder if they were satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the principal offender or a party to the offence under s. 21 of the Code. He explained briefly the position of the defense and spent considerable time summarizing the Crown's evidence. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder contrary to s. 218 of the Code. The majority of the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal. He appealed to this Court.

Held: The appeal should be dismissed.



There was an evidentiary foundation to justify putting to the jury the Crown's alternative theory that appellant was a party to the offence under s. 21, rather than a principal. Where an accused is being tried alone and there is evidence that more than one person was involved in the commission of the offence, it is also appropriate for the trial judge to direct the jury with respect to the provisions of s. 21 of the Code, even though the identity of the other participant or participants is unknown and even though the precise part played by each participant may be uncertain. Here, there was very strong evidence connecting appellant with the crime. There was also some evidence, which, if believed, indicated that he did not commit the crime personally. The facts were for the jury, and the trial judge was correct not to preclude the jury from considering all the alternatives.



{C}· {C} Per Dickson C.J. and Beetz, Estey, Wilson and Le Dain JJ. Section 21(1) of the Criminal Code is designed to make the difference between aiding and abetting and personally committing an offence legally irrelevant. It provides that either mode of committing an offence is equally culpable and, indeed, that whether a person personally commits or only aids and abets, he is guilty of that offence‑‑in this case, murder‑‑and not some separate distinct offence. There is no need for the Crown to specify in the charge the nature of an accused's participation in the offence. Where there is evidence before a jury that points to an accused either committing a crime personally or, alternatively, aiding and abetting another to commit the offence, provided the jury is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did one or the other, it is a matter of indifference which alternative actually occurred. It follows that s. 21 precludes a requirement of jury unanimity as to the particular nature of the accused's participation in the offence.

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