OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada delivers a landmark ruling today on the battered woman’s defence when it rules in the explosive case of a Nova Scotia woman who tried to hire a hit man to kill her abusive husband.
It is the first time in 23 years that the Supreme Court is dealing with the issue, and today’s widely anticipated ruling could reshape the landmark defence in the case of Manitoba’s Angelique Lavallee, who was acquitted of the charges against her for fatally shooting her abusive boyfriend.
Today, the high court is considering the case of Nicole Ryan, whose marriage to an ex-soldier was described as a “reign of terror” by the Nova Scotia trial judge that originally acquitted her of attempted murder.
The legal issue in Ryan’s case turns on the merits of two different criminal law defences that can allow an accused person to be acquitted of a crime — that they acted in self-defence or that they were acting under duress.
Today’s ruling will have to clarify whether the battered woman’s defence should be expanded to include duress — Ryan’s act of attempting to hire a hit man to kill an abusive spouse.
Ryan called police at least nine times to seek protection from her husband, Michael, who repeatedly threatened her and her daughter, court has been told.
Instead, the RCMP eventually arrested her in March 2008 after they sent an undercover officer to pose the hit man that Ryan was trying to hire to kill her husband.
The couple had separated and moved far apart, but Ryan became terrified for her daughter’s safety when her father began showing up at her school.
Once, during their marriage, Michael Ryan took his wife and daughter to a remote, forested spot and told them this was where he planned to bury their bodies.
Kim Pate, executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said it is time for the Supreme Court to close the legal gaps in the Criminal Code that leave battered women unprotected.
“At least in theory, we’re supposed to have equal rights now. To draw bright lines between defences that battered women fall between and end up convicted when they do seek to protect themselves and their children — surely we’re not in a state where that’s still seen as acceptable.”
Pate said the police clearly entrapped Ryan, and that she should not be punished for ignoring her pleas for protection.
Ryan’s lawyer says Ryan is trying to get on with her life, and is keen to avoid the public spotlight.
But even if she wins a resounding victory Friday, the Supreme Court will have no power to give the Ryan what she was really seeking when she tried to hire a hit man — to protect her daughter.
“All I know is that the husband, with his girlfriend, took off with the daughter after the trial and before the decision,” Halifax lawyer Joel Pink told The Canadian Press in an interview.
“If I remember correctly, and we have not heard from her since.”