Monday, January 21, 2013

When a defence of duress is no longer valid for battered/abused women!

Good Day Readers:

The only interview Nicole Ryan has given since the Supreme Court handed down its recent decision has been with Anna Marie Tremonte host of the CBC's daily national affairs program The Current.
If you visit http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/ you will find a podcast of the approximately 28-minute discussion that includes comments by her lawyer Joel Pink. It is not being reproduced here because of technical considerations. For whatever reason(s) while the embed code can be copied to another website or blog, it activates every time that site is visited meaning you can still hear it even though it may no longer be at the top of main the page.

Here is Ms Ryan's former husband's version of events as displayed by the National Post (See The husband in the Nova Scotia hitman case deny allegations he pursued a 'reign of terror' against his wife - Tristin Hopper, Monday, January 21, 2013). As one might expect the two versions differ dramatically.



As the Judge and Jury in the Court of Public Opinion you must decide three questions::

(1) To whose version would you give greater credibility?

(2) While politicians, police and the courts are quick to point out the zero tolerance rule for domestic violence do you think it's working?

(3) Is Family Court broken?

How say you jurists?

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk
Supreme Court grants stay to abused Nova Scotia woman who tried to hire hitman

Douglas Quan
Post Media News
Friday, January 18, 2013
Nicole Ryan, the Nova Scotia woman who tried to hire a hit man to kill her abusive husband, attends a news conference at her lawyer's office in Halifax on January 17, 2013. Ryan is free after the Supreme Court of Canada ordered an extraordinary stay of proceedings. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

In an “exceptional” move, the Supreme Court of Canada on Friday overturned the acquittal of a woman who tried to hire a hitman to kill her abusive husband but said she will not have to face another trial.

All the judges said they did not accept the woman’s claim that she had acted under extreme duress when she attempted to take out a contract on her husband’s life. Such a defence can only be used in limited circumstances, the court said.

But a majority of judges ordered a rare stay of proceedings, saying that it would be unfair to put the woman through another trial.

“The abuse she suffered and the protracted nature of these proceeding(s) have taken an enormous toll on her,” the judges wrote.

“It is an exceptional situation that warrants an exceptional remedy.”
Free: Nicole Ryan, a school teacher from Nova Scotia, was arrested in March 2008 and charged with asking an undercover police officer to kill her husband. (CBC News)

The judges also referred to the “disquieting” fact that the police had failed to respond to the woman’s several calls for help in dealing with her estranged husband’s “reign of terror.”

One dissenting judge, Morris Fish, said it should be up to the Crown to decide whether to hold another trial.
At a press conference in Halifax, Nicole Ryan, who will not have a criminal record, said she was “relieved” and hoped that she can “re-establish my life.” She has already gone back to teaching.

She choked back tears and uttered a single word when asked if she still feared for the life of her daughter.

“Yes.”

She hasn’t had contact with the girl in almost five years, ever since Michael Ryan took the child, now 12, in March 2008.

Ms. Ryan was charged in 2008 with counselling to commit murder after she approached an undercover RCMP officer and agreed to pay him $25,000 to kill her husband.

In court, Ms. Ryan claimed she had been under duress and acted out of fear for her life and her child’s life.

The abuse, she testified, was verbal and physical and lasted for many years.

He was a six-foot-three former soldier and 230 pounds. She was five-foot-three and 115 pounds.

On one occasion, he held a pistol to her head and called her a “weak soldier.”

When she brought up the subject of divorce, his response was that he would “destroy” her and their child, she said. Having tried on numerous occasions to get police to intervene, she said she did not believe police would be able to stop her husband from carrying out his threats.
"It’s still not clear what would the next woman be able to do, to defend herself?"
While two lower courts accepted the woman’s defence, Friday’s ruling made it clear that the duress defence can only be used in situations where a person commits a crime in response to a specific threat.

There has to be a threat of death or bodily harm and “no safe avenue of escape,” the Supreme Court said.

The ruling disappointed the interveners in the case — the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund — which had hoped the court would address the self-defence issue.

“We still have a lack of clarity about the law of self-defence,” said Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Fry society.

“It’s still not clear what would the next woman be able to do, to defend herself? Should she just be shot, herself? Should she be murdered and her child murdered with her?”

Postmedia News, with files from The Canadian Press
When your only choice is to hire a hitman the system is broken
Matt Gurney
April 11, 2011



The highest court in Nova Scotia has reached a “landmark” ruling concerning abused women and their violent husbands. Nicole Ryan, 40,  found not criminally responsible for plotting to have her husband murdered in 2008, has had her acquittal upheld on the grounds that: “Ms. Ryan was compelled to take the action she did by normal human instincts and self-preservation. It would be inappropriate, under these circumstances, to attribute criminal conduct to her.” In so doing, the court has ruled that she was acting under duress when she tried to have her husband killed (which is different from killing in self-defence, which is limited to those case when lethal force is necessary to preserve one’s life or property from immediate threat).

The particulars of the case are highly disturbing. Nicole Ryan, a physically slight woman, reportedly endured 17 years of brutal abuse at the hands of her husband, a physically powerful member of the Canadian Forces.

Among the crimes attributed to the husband, Michael Ryan, are physically and sexually assaulting his wife, threatening her with death and pointing firearms at her head. According to Nicole Ryan, it was only after her husband began to threaten their daughter’s life that she left him. (Michael Ryan did not appear at the trial to dispute any of this, leaving it as unchallenged testimony).

Even after leaving her husband, however, the death threats continued. That was when Nicole Ryan tried to arrange her husband’s murder, meeting with a man she thought was a contract killer. He was, in fact, an RCMP officer, and Nicole Ryan was arrested in the spring of 2008. When she was taken to jail and given a 30-day psychiatric review, which found her fit to stand trial, she told her jailers that she hadn’t felt that free in years. Only behind bars did she truly feel safe.

According to Ms. Ryan, on several occasions she went to the police and was told to file a restraining order against her estranged husband — which would not help to deter a violent man bent on murder. Having left him, and still feeling her and her daughter were endangered, one can see how, in the absence of police protection, she’d conclude that pre-emptively murdering him was necessary. Certainly the courts feel that way — they agree that given her emotional and mental trauma, plus the very real perception of danger, she was not criminally responsible for her actions.

This is, perhaps, a happy ending for Nicole Ryan. Removed from an abusive relationship and with her legal troubles over, she can now begin to put her life back together (and can also try to regain custody of her daughter, who is apparently and worryingly in the custody of Michael Ryan). But it presents some troubling questions: If the courts agree that her actions were reasonable in the circumstances, obviously, the system is broken.

Why was an abusive husband not arrested and jailed? Why were there not emergency relocation options for Nicole Ryan and her daughter? Why were Michael Ryan’s firearms not removed from him (which is virtually the entire purpose of the registry, proving yet again its futility). Why did Nicole Ryan not have resources in the community she could turn to before choosing to have her husband murdered?

Many of the case’s details remain unpublished and known only to the participants. But the unanswered questions are disturbing. Several dozen women each year can expect to be murdered by current or former partners. For all the talk about preventing violence against women, if for those few women trapped in a nightmare of violence with no way out, there are no better options than to murder their aggressors, then both our correctional and mental health-care systems need dramatic and immediate improvement.

mgurney@nationalpost.com
Follow Matt Gurney on Twitter: @mattgurney

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