The Tuttons believed that their diabetic son had been cured by divine intervention so they did not give him his insulin and he died. They had attempted this in the past and their doctor had told them that if their son did not receive his insulin then he would die. They honestly believed that he had been cured by divine intervention. They were charged with manslaughter by criminal negligence under ss. 202 (now s. 219) and 197 (now s. 215) of the Criminal Code. The Tuttons were convicted at trial but the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial which the Crown appealed to the Supreme Court.
- What is the mens rea requirement for manslaughter by criminal negligence – subjective fault or objective fault?
There is no problem proving the external elements of this offence. The parents had a duty to deliver their son with the necessaries of life arising in s. 197. They omitted to perform this duty, and this omission caused Christopher’s death. The case wholly depends on the interpretation of the fault elements of the offence. The parents believed that their son had been cured – what is the difference between knowledge and belief? The Court of Appeal stated that omissions must be judged on the basis of subjective intent – if you had an honest belief that you were doing the right thing then you should not be punished. However, in this case, despite their honest beliefs, the parents' omission still directly caused their son’s death.
The majority states that the standard of assessing whether they did something wrong or not is a subjective one. Did they know, or were the reckless/willfully blind in relation to the death of their son? Wilson (majority) starts with interpreting s. 202 and states that it has historically been ambiguous. She says that negligence in this crime is not to be equated with civil negligence.
The other two judges go for an objective test. McIntyre says that the wording of s. 202 is "negligence". He emphasizes this word, and determines that recklessness can be interpreted in these objective standards. He thinks that the negligence in s. 202 can be determined objectively. This will have the effect of punishing mindless acts, and will act as deterrence to future cases. He uses the welder argument to state that you can take the subjective understanding of the facts into consideration when determining if a reasonable person, having this understanding of the facts, would find the actions to be reasonable. He says that this is not a subjective test, it is just taking into account all of the facts, including the accused's state of mind, in determining if the actions were reasonable. This is a modification of the objective test. You must take all of the circumstances into account, including what the accused knew at the time.
Lamer tries to strike a middle course; he says there is an objective test, but a generous allowance must be made for factors that are particularly relevant to the accused – such as "youth, mental development and education". These are characteristics that are relevant to understand the capacity of the individual to assess the situation, and the reasonable person must possess these same attributes.
There is no definite test that comes out of this case; judges across Canada essentially chose to adopt either a subjective or objective test depending on how they interpreted the decisions in this case.