The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on Nicole Ryan’s “battered woman” case has many implications for the legal tools available to women like Nicole.
Nicole, now a high school teacher, married Michael Ryan back in 1992, when she was a 21-year-old college student. Michael was a soldier, and at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he towered over Nicole, who was 5-foot-3 and 115 pounds. Michael threatened Nicole weekly. He demanded regular sex, threatened to “destroy her,” and also showed her where he would bury her and their daughter, Aimée. When Nicole reported this to the police, they refused to intervene on the grounds that these were civil matters.
In September of 2007, Nicole began plotting to hire someone to murder Michael. Over seven months, she spoke to three men, and the third she spoke to was an undercover RCMP officer posing as a “hit man.” She was arrested shortly after speaking to the officer.
By an 8-1 majority, the SCC halted any further prosecutions, citing the “enormous toll” on her of years of threats and abuse by Michael. The judges criticized the failures of police to protect Nicole. Justices Louis LeBel and Thomas Cromwell stated that, “it seems that the authorities were much quicker to intervene to protect Mr. Ryan than they had been to respond to her request for help in dealing with his reign of terror over her,” and this was quite a “disquieting fact.”
The SCC said the law that allows a defendant to claim he or she acted under “duress” was unclear when Nicole was tried. Nicole did not argue “self-defence” at trial because her lawyer did not believe she met the Criminal Code’s threshold for such an argument. On Friday’s judgment, the SCC did not explicitly say her case was one of self-defence. However, the SCC did draw a clear distinction between duress and self-defence. The SCC unanimously held that a claim of “duress” could only be made in circumstances where a victim is an innocent third party. The act in a claim of “duress” is wrong. In contrast, acts of self-defence are not legally wrong because the victim is seen as the author of his or her own misfortune. Self-defence is, in short, a justification, whereas “duress” is an excuse.
For the full article from The Toronto Star: