Second Article, Question #3

by ralcock on March 17, 2017 - 4:16pm

Largely it is the controversial cases in jurisprudence that are brought to the attention of the general Canadian public. Controversy can be based upon the actions and details of the crime, the criminal proceedings, and/or the ruling of the court(s). One such criminal proceeding was that of R v Ryan which was controversial due to the proceedings and the ruling of the courts because of gendered ideas and a gendered defence.

            The background of the crime are as follows; Nicole Doucet Ryan had been searching for and ultimately found a hitman who agreed to murder her husband Michael Ryan for $25,000 plus $2,000 up front. Unbeknownst to Nicole, she had completed the arrangement with an undercover RCMP officer and Nicole was arrested shortly after. At court through evidence provided by the RCMP the judge found that Nicole had in fact been guilty of counselling the commission of an offence, but Nicole then provided the defense that she was operating under duress from her abusive husband. Although Nicole and her former husband Michael had been separated at the time of the arrangement, the courts accepted Nicole’s defense essentially invoking a battered wife syndrome.

            Although Michael had been subpoenaed to the trial, the Crown never called for his testimony and he was never able to provide a defense against Nicole’s allegations in court. The ruling judged had accepted Nicole’s testimony without question and acquitted her of her charges on the basis of duress.

            This case contains many gendered characteristics and aspects to it. For the nature of the crime itself, paying a hitman to murder someone can neither really be attributed to male/masculine or female/feminine, but in the case of committing the act against one’s spouse we may suspect that it would be the female partner as opposed to the male due to societies understanding of the male being more physically powerful and dominant, not needing someone else to do his killing. The premeditation and orchestration of the plan is an attribute often applied to crimes committed by women, they are more carefully thought out and planned where the men commit physical acts of rage.

            It is the criminal proceedings and the ruling however which truly demonstrate the idea of gender roles and contains a gendered scope. Nicole immediately provides the defense of duress, that she was forced against her better judgement to plan the murder of her ex-husband due to the reign of terror he imposed on her during their relationship as she described it. While duress itself is not necessarily a gendered defense, in the context of occurring between two spouses it immediately becomes a female-gendered defense with women using it to defend their killings of their abusive partners essentially invoking the battered women syndrome. In the context of “one spouse killed their partner because they feared for their life due to their hostile and aggressive behaviour” gender norms typically has us perceive this as the woman being under duress due to her aggressive and abusive husband.

            Nicole’s conformity to this gender role affected the ruling of the trial. Because Nicole’s testimony described herself as an abused and suffering (ex)wife her actions were deemed excusable by the judge, and Michael Ryan was not called to give his testimony and account of the alleged reign of terror he imposed. This can be proven by a hypothetical reversal of the genders and the roles they played in a trial. Had Michael Ryan attempted to organise the assassination of his ex-wife and been found guilty only to plead duress, would the judge then not have called Nicole Doucet Ryan to the stand to hear her testimony to either prove or deny this alleged duress? Because of gender norms it is easy for us to accept that a woman can be placed under the reign of terror of her male partner, but much less likely the reversal?

            Gender roles had an effective hand in the proceedings and ruling of the trial. The accepted notion that a woman could easily be under duress from an abusive male partner allowed for the proceedings to go on without Michael’s testimony, and Nicole’s conformity to this gender role allowed her to be acquitted of the charges brought forward against her. If the situation had been reversed, because of societal views of gender norms, it can go without saying that Nicole would have been brought forward to prove that she had been abusing Michael; something gender norms cause society to be hesitant to believe initially.