The Supreme Court of Canada is hearing arguments Thursday on whether victims of domestic abuse can hire a hit man to kill their partners, a controversial issue which tests the limits of the defence of duress.http://ca.news.yahoo.com/top-court-hear ... 48042.html
The case involves a Nova Scotia woman, Nicole Doucet, who tried to hire an undercover RCMP officer to kill her husband Michael Ryan.
The high school teacher was arrested in March 2008 and charged with counselling to commit murder.
She was acquitted of the charge two years later after the Nova Scotia Supreme Court accepted her argument that she thought she had no other way out of an abusive 15-year marriage to a man who repeatedly threatened her and her daughter.
At trial, her lawyer successfully used the criminal defence of duress, arguing that she had no other avenue of escape from the situation. Duress is usually used when someone involuntarily commits a crime after being threatened by another person.
The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, saying the marriage amounted to a "reign of terror."
Lee Lakeman, from the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, said Doucet repeatedly sought help from the police before trying to hire the undercover officer.
"This woman was trying to prevent her own death and the death of her child, and she was left on her own without the protections that she's entitled to according to Canadian law," Lakeman said.
James Stribopoulos, who teaches at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, said the case would likely have had a different outcome if she had tried to kill her husband with her own hands.
"She probably would have had, if she had acted out and actually struck him or killed him, a valid claim of self-defence in light of how the Supreme Court has modified self-defence to deal with the unique position of battered spouses," he said.
The Supreme Court recognized battered woman syndrome in a landmark 1990 case. It outlined how a woman in an abusive relationship who kills her partner can use the Criminal Code’s self-defence provisions to argue for an acquittal.
But Nova Scotia prosecutors say the self-defence provisions and the defence of duress were incorrectly applied in this case.