Barbara Kay: Nova Scotia hitman case reinforces gender bias of Canadian courts
The more I read, the more bizarre it got.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this week on a case where an allegation of spousal abuse – never substantiated – is the heart of a troubling story that has concluded in law, but has certainly not brought any sense of moral closure to those who track gender bias in the courts. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Here’s the story. A Nova Scotian couple, Nicole Doucet Ryan and Michael Ryan, who have one daughter, separate in 2007. In March 2008, Nicole is arrested for trying to hire a hit man for $25,000 (her exchange of money with an undercover RCMP officer is all clearly recorded on video) to kill Michael. Nicole testifies at trial that Michael is an abusive control freak, who punches holes in walls, once put a gun to her head, and who exercised a “reign of terror” over the household. In other words Nicole puts up the “battered wife” defence, which is supposed to be applied in situations where the woman fears imminently for her life, i.e. “extreme duress,” which was clearly not the case in Nicole’s premeditated actions at a time when the couple was separated.
During the trial, although subpoenaed, although on the witness list, and although willing and able to rebut Nicole’s statements, Michael is not called to testify, because the Crown is so sure it had a “slam-dunk” case. So Michael sits in the parking lot, waiting for the cell phone call to testify that never comes. If he had been called, he says he would have explained: that none of this ever happened; that they were living apart at the time of her allegations; that he was parenting their daughter because psychological assessments of them both had raised questions about Nicole’s ability to care for the daughter; that Nicole had stopped communicating with the daughter of her own accord; and that Nicole’s testimony was simply one false allegation after another.
Now both the Nova Scotia Appeal Court and the Supreme Court of Canada have ruled that the trial judge erred in acquitting Nicole “without question” of her testimony. In other words, they grant that what Nicole told the court about her husband was totally unsubstantiated, and therefore her acquittal has rightfully been overturned. But the stay of proceedings means she is off the hook for another trial. The reasoning was that she had been through enough already. “The abuse she suffered and the protracted nature of these proceeding(s) have taken an enormous toll on her,” the judges wrote (with one dissent). “It is an exceptional situation that warrants an exceptional remedy.”
“Abuse she suffered?” We don’t know that. They’re taking her word for it again. And what about what Michael Ryan has been through? His new life with a military woman in Ontario, with his daughter and a new baby, has been turned upside down. He has been branded a monster by the media. And he has never been granted his day in court at any of the three levels of justice. In a Youtube address, he denies every single allegation, adding a great deal of background about Nicole that paints a very different portrait from her own self-presentation. Isn’t justice worth another trial to get at the truth?
When a witness demonstrably intent on murder is given full latitude to make her case, possibly cut from whole cloth, while the intended victim, painted as a villain, is denied his right to face his accuser, what are we to think? If the situation were reversed: If a man were on trial for the same charge of conspiring to murder his wife on any abuse grounds whatsoever, can we imagine that the wife would not be called to testify and give her side of the story? No of course we cannot. Something is gender-rotten in the state of justice in this country.