The Prejudicial Effects of "Reasonable Steps" in Analysis of Mens Rea and Sexual Consent: Two Solutions


  • Lucinda Vandervort Professor, University of Saskatchewan



This article examines the operation of “reasonable steps” as a statutory standard for analysis of the availability of the defence of belief in consent in sexual assault cases and concludes that application of section 273.2(b) of the Criminal Code, as presently worded, often undermines the legal validity and correctness of decisions about whether the accused acted with mens rea, a guilty, blameworthy state of mind. When the conduct of an accused who is alleged to have made a mistake about whether a complainant communicated consent is assessed by the hybrid subjective-objective reasonableness standard prescribed by section 273.2, many decision-makers rely on extra-legal criteria and assumptions grounded in their personal experience and opinion about what is reasonable. In the midst of debate over what the accused knew and what steps were “reasonable,” given what the accused knew, the legal definition of consent in section 273.1 is easily overlooked and decision-makers focus on facts that are legally irrelevant and prejudice rational deliberation. The result is failure to enforce the law. The author proposes: (1) that section 273.2 be amended to reflect the significant developments achieved in sexual consent jurisprudence since enactment of the provision in 1992; and (2) that, in the interim, the judiciary act with resolve to make full and proper use of the statutory and common law tools that are presently available to determine whether the accused acted with mens rea in relation to the absence of sexual consent.