Keeping Up Is Hard to Do:
A Trial Judge’s Reading Blog


In R. v. Leonard, 2022 NLCA 22, April 8, 2022, the accused was charged with the offence of trafficking in oxycodone, contrary to section 5(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.  At his trial, the evidence established that he had a prescription for Percocet, which contains oxycodone, and sold some of it.  The accused testified that he did not know that Percocet included oxycodone.

The trial judge entered an acquittal, concluding that the Crown had not proven that the accused had the necessary mens rea.

The Appeal:

The Crown appealed form the acquittal, arguing the trial judge erred:

(1) In failing to apply section 19 of the Criminal Code, that ignorance of the law is no excuse; or

(2) In stating and applying the law regarding wilful blindness

The appeal was allowed and a conviction entered. 

The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial judge did no err in considering ignorance of the law, but did err in his consideration of the doctrine of willful blindness.

Ignorance of the Law:

The Court of Appeal stated (at paragraph 17):

the trial judge did not err in concluding that ignorance of the law did not apply on the facts of Mr. Leonard’s case. Mr. Leonard was not saying that he did not know that trafficking in oxycodone was an offence. Rather, he said that he did not know that Percocet contained oxycodone or any other prohibited ingredient. Mr. Leonard’s mistake was a mistake of fact, not a mistake of law. This was not a case of ignorance of the law. It follows that section 19 of the Code has no application

Wilful Blindness:

The Court of Appeal stated (at paragraph 25):

The trial judge” erred in law by failing to apply to the facts of this case the principles underpinning the doctrine of wilful blindness as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. The error was central to the assessment of the charge against Mr. Leonard and could reasonably be considered to have had a bearing on his decision to acquit (Spencer, at paragraph 86). In the result, I would allow the appeal and set aside the verdict of acquittal” (at paragraph 25).


In deciding to enter a conviction, the Court of Appeal held that “Mr. Leonard was wilfully blind to whether trafficking in Percocet was a criminal offence” (at paragraphs 27 and 28):

The trial judge found as facts that Mr. Leonard knew that he was trafficking a prescription drug, and the brand name of the drug. He knew that it was wrong to sell a prescription drug; that it was a forbidden and dangerous practice. His only defence was that he did not know the chemical composition of Percocet and had not heard of anyone being charged for the possession or sale of Percocet. These facts lead inexorably to the conclusion that Mr. Leonard was wilfully blind to whether trafficking in Percocet was a criminal offence. He claims that he did not know the ingredients contained in the drug. It was convenient not to know. He was deliberately ignorant; he deliberately chose not to make inquiries.

As discussed above, wilful blindness imputes knowledge where knowledge is a component of the mens rea of an offence. In this case, as a result of Mr. Leonard’s wilful blindness, knowledge that the drug he was trafficking contains a substance listed in Schedule I of the Act is imputed. Given that determination together with the facts found by the trial judge and Mr. Leonard’s admissions, the elements of the offence have been proven. The appropriate remedy is to set aside the acquittal and enter a verdict of guilty.