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Press Release: Vancouver Rape Relief Condemns Prosecution of Battered Woman in the Supreme Court of Canada

June 12, 2012

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter stands in solidarity with Nicole Ryan and alongside the women’s groups who are interveners in her case; Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) and LEAF. CAEFS-LEAF will appear before the Supreme Court of Canada on June 14, 2012 to argue that battered women who take steps to use force against their abusers in order to save their lives and their children’s lives, are entitled to criminal law defences.

The accused, Nicole Ryan, suffered 15 years under a “reign of terror” (to use the words of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal) under her abusive husband, Michael Ryan. She was sexually and physically assaulted, emotionally and psychologically abused, threatened repeatedly with a gun and told by Michael Ryan that if she ever left, he would “kill”, “destroy” and “annihilate” Ms. Ryan and their daughter. 

When Ms Ryan was finally able to leave, Michael Ryan repeatedly stalked her. Nicole Ryan contacted the police and victim services time and again, but according to the Court, her pleas for help “went unheeded.”  Isolated, terrified and without options, Ms. Ryan eventually turned to a third party for protection. The third party was in fact an undercover police officer, who posed as a hit-man. Ms Ryan was charged with counseling to commit murder. 

Nicole Ryan was acquitted on the basis of the defence of duress by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. This acquittal was unanimously upheld by a three judge panel in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

“Every six days a woman in Canada is killed by an intimate partner.  Repeatedly those deaths have been tied to inaction or inappropriate action on the part of the criminal justice system.  Women escaping abuse are entitled to defend against their attackers. Sometimes they succeed.  But in any case, abused women should not be forced to succumb to abuse in order to avoid being criminalized for acting in their life threatening desperation” advised Lee Lakeman, speaking on behalf of the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC). 

Hilla Kerner, Front Line Worker at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter: “In British Columbia alone, 50 women were killed by their male spouses in the past 5 years. These are extreme examples of the state’s abandonment of women victims to male violence.  In Nicole Ryan’s case, she was separating from her husband and we know from our work with battered women that women are tremendously vulnerable to retaliation while separating from an abusive man. Criminalizing Ms. Ryan for her attempt to protect herself and her daughter is effectively punishing her for the state’s failure”.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter is the first rape crisis center in Canada, founded in 1973 and has been operating a transition house for battered women since 1981. In the past year alone 1,400 women called our rape crisis line and 120 women escaping male violence, and their children have been sheltered in our transition House.

Media Contact: Hilla Kerner, 604-872-8212

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