Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Supreme Court Tempers Justice with Mercy in Battered Woman Case

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Supreme Court Tempers Justice with Mercy in Battered Woman Case

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Supreme Court tempers justice with mercy in battered woman case

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Jan. 19:

Nicole Ryan is a Nova Scotia woman who was abused, terrorized and threatened with death by Michael Ryan, her violent gun-owning husband. When she begged for protection from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and others, she got none. Fearing for her life and that of her daughter, she tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband, was caught in a police "sting," and was charged.

Controversially, she was acquitted when the provincial courts accepted her argument that she had acted under great duress.

Wrong, the Supreme Court of Canada decreed on Friday as it settled this long-running case by overturning her acquittal on the grounds that the lower courts misapplied the law. Battered women who fight their aggressors are entitled to claim self-defence, the Supreme Court found. However, they cannot claim that they were acting under "duress," at least as it is defined in law. In the court's view, that's a stretch.

Yet despite this finding, the court also ruled that Nicole Ryan shouldn't have to face a new trial or the prospect of prison because she has suffered so much and her case has been so badly handled. That wisely tempers justice with mercy.

While this ruling won't be welcomed by those who want to expand the "battered woman" defence in Canadian law, it serves welcome notice that not "anything goes" in the eyes of the courts, and that legal distinctions matter. It clarifies a murky law. And it brings commonsense closure to a highly emotional case.

Michael Ryan was a volatile, burly soldier who imposed a "reign of terror" on his family. Nicole Ryan told the court that he routinely threw things at her head, physically assaulted her and threatened to kill her and her daughter by burning down the house around them. …

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