Actus Reus vs. Mens Rea vs. Strict Liability

Actus Reus vs. Mens Rea vs. Strict Liability

For you to get convicted of a crime, the Crown prosecutor needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged incident was caused by your conduct and that this alleged conduct was accompanied by a guilty mind. These two elements are referred to as the Actus Reus and the Mens Rea of the alleged offence.


The actus reus and mens rea elements can usually be found in the alleged offence section of the Criminal Code. The actus reus refers to the act itself. The actus reus can consist of up to 3 separate elements which include the conduct consisting of a voluntary act or omission, the surrounding circumstances and the consequences of the voluntary act.  For example, s.271 of the Criminal Code creates the offence of sexual assault. Thus, in interpreting this section, the actus reus for s.271 would include the touching or threat of touching, the sexual nature of the touching, and the absence of consent to the touching. 


However, the presence of the actus reus alone is not enough to justify a criminal conviction. The Crown must also prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the act was accompanied by a guilty mind or the mens rea. The mens rea can be objective or subjective depending on the alleged offence. An objective mens rea considers the reasonable person and takes into account what should have been in the mind of the accused. Subjective mens rea on the other hand considers what actually was in the mind of the accused. The forms of subjective mens rea are intent, knowledge and recklessness. 


Additionally, there are also regulatory offences. Regulatory offences are not considered “true crimes.” Regulatory offences do not constitute conduct that in itself is so abhorrent that it should be prohibited completely, but rather this conduct is prohibited because it is beneficial for the public interest. For any regulatory offence, the Crown prosecution does not need to satisfy the mens rea element. All that is necessary for the Crown prosecution to prove is the actus reus of the alleged offence, for criminal liability. An example of this would be traffic offences.

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