A young Nova Scotia mother was in a violent and abusive marriage. She asked for help repeatedly from the police to no avail. Finally, in fear of her life and that of her child, she tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband. The hit man turned out to be an undercover RCMP officer. She was charged with counseling the commission of an offence.
At trial, she argued the defence of duress, arising from intense and reasonable fear. She was acquitted at trial and the Court of Appeal upheld her acquittal. However, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the defence of duress was not available to her. The Court ruled that duress can only be used when a person commits an offence under the compulsion of a threat of death or bodily harm made for the purpose of making him or her to commit that offence. The Court listed the following components of the defence:
- an explicit or implicit threat of present or future bodily harm or death;
- the accused must reasonably believe that the threat will be carried out;
- there must be no safe avenue of escape;
- there must be a close connection in time between the threat and the harm threatened;
- there must be a proportionality between the harm threatened and the harm inflicted by the accused; and
- the accused cannot be party to a conspiracy or criminal association and must actually know that the threats were a possible result of this criminal activity.
Although the Supreme Court overturned her acquittal, it stayed all proceedings against her, noting that the protracted abuse she had suffered had taken an enormous toll on her, and it would not be fair to subject her to another trial.
R. v. Ryan, 2013 SCC 3 (CanLII)