WestlawNext Canada insight Blog

Word of the Week - Intent


Supreme Court of Canada

... in Lewis v. The Queen, 1979 CanLII 19 (SCC), [1979] 2 S.C.R. 821, at p. 831, “the mental element, the [fault element] with which the court is concerned, relates to ‘intent’, i.e. the exercise of a free will to use particular means to produce a particular result, rather than with ‘motive’, i.e. that which precedes and induces the exercise of the will”.

R. c. McRae |

2013 CarswellQue 11604 (S.C.C.) at para. 36 |

Per Cromwell, Karakatsanis JJ. (LeBel, Fish, Abella, Moldaver, Wagner JJ. concurring)


There is no indication that the purpose of the Canadian Human Rights Act [S.C. 1976-77, c. 33] is to assign or to punish moral blameworthiness. No doubt, some people who discriminate do so out of wilful ignorance or animus. Many of the first anti-discrimination statutes focused solely upon the behaviour of such individuals, requiring proof of “intent” to discriminate before imposing any sanctions ... There were two major difficulties with this approach. One semantic problem was a continuing confusion of the notions of “intent” and “malice”. The word “intent” was deprived of its meaning in common parlance and was used as a surrogate for “malice”. “Intent” was not the simple willing of a consequence, but rather the desiring of harm.

This imputed meaning was coherent in the context of a statute designed to punish moral blameworthiness. However, as the second problem with a fault-based approach was revealed — that moral blame was too limited a concept to deal effectively with the problem of discrimination — an attempt was made by Legislatures and Courts to cleanse the word “intent” of its moral component. The emphasis upon formal causality was restored and the intent required to prove discrimination became the intent to cause a discriminatory result ... The difficulty with this development was that “intent” had become so encrusted with the moral overtones of “malice” that it was often difficult to separate the two concepts. Moreover, the imputation of a requirement of “intent”, even if unrelated to moral fault, failed to respond adequately to the many instances where the effect of policies and practices is discriminatory even if that effect is unintended and unforeseen. The stated purpose of human rights legislation ... was not fully implemented.

Canadian National Railway v. Canada (Human Rights Commission) |

1987 CarswellNat 905 (S.C.C.) at para. 28, 29 |

Dickson C.J.C.


New Brunswick

It is a rule of law, that the construction of deeds ought to be favourable, and as near to the apparent intent of the parties as possibly may be, and as the law will permit. Parkhurst v. Smith(Willes' R. 332). In Roe v. Tranmer(2 Wils. 78), Willes, C.J., says: 

The Judges have been astuti to carry the intent of the parties into execution, and to give the most liberal and benign construction to deeds; ut res magis valeat quam pereat. By the word ‘intent,’ is not meant the intent of the parties to pass the land by this or that particular kind of deed, or by any particular mode or form of conveyance, but an intent that the land should pass, at all events, one way or another.

Wortman v. Ayles |

1867 CarswellNB 21 (N.B. S.C.) at para. 8 |

Ritchie C.J.


Northwest Territories

This doctrine [the doctrine of pressure] was one of very long standing, and, shortly stated, meant that where the moving cause inducing the debtor to make conveyance was some pressure, force, demand, or request coming from the creditor, the word “intent” being deemed to mean “motive,” there could be no “intent” to defeat or delay creditors or prefer one to another because the “motive” or “intent” was shewn to be the satisfying of the demand or the getting rid of the pressure. The doctrine even in this form had been settled for years ...

Ross Brothers Ltd. v. Pearson |

1905 CarswellNWT 35 (N.W.T. S.C. en banc) at para. 16 |

Scott J.



There is a line of reasoning, developed in R. v. Hibbert, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 973 (S.C.C.), that a person who acts with knowledge of the likely consequences of his or her actions can be said to intend those consequences. That decision engaged a debate as to whether there is a difference between knowledge/intent and purpose/intent. The former meaning of intent holds that if a person does something that they know will lead to something else happening, they intend that other thing to happen. The latter meaning of intent holds that, in order to find that the person intends the other thing to happen, that must be his or her purpose in undertaking the original act.

R. v. S. (J.) |

2008 CarswellOnt 6311 (Ont. S.C.J.) at para. 23 |

Nordheimer J.


... “intent” and “plan” do not necessarily imply “agree”.

Rodaro v. Royal Bank |

2000 CarswellOnt 281 (Ont. S.C.J.) at para. 170 |

Spence J.

© Copyright Westlaw Canada, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.