“You obviously have something against Nicole Ryan,” declared a reader of my column last week. In it, I’d questioned the Supreme Court’s decision not retry Ryan on charges she’d hired a hit man to kill her husband. “I’m not sure what it is,” the reader continued, “but it was extremely distressing to deal with the fact that you’re now on the side of the abusers.”
That reader certainly wasn’t alone in extrapolating wildly from what I wrote.
I shouldn’t be surprised.
The case raises complex, emotionally-charged issues about spousal abuse, and the ways in which the courts deal with men and women in relationships who are accused of crimes against one another.
While some women’s advocates saw my merely asking why the courts had branded Ryan “violent, abusive and controlling” without ever having heard his version of events tantamount to supporting abusive men, men’s rights crusaders bulled past my caveats (“I don’t know whether to believe Michael Ryan’s counter-claims…”) and declared all men “victims of abuse as they endure false allegations by disgruntled ex’s and a gender-biased judicial system.”
While those debates are worth having, this specific cases raises specific questions requiring specific answers.
There is, for example, the question the court itself raised: how did the RCMP respond—and not respond—to Nicole Ryan’s pleas for protection from her husband? Provincial Justice Minister Ross Landry is wrong to insist the RCMP be allowed to investigate itself, even initially. We have too much history of police protecting their own to have faith in an internal review.
Then there is the question the decision itself raised: how can the Supreme Court conclude the trial judge shouldn’t have allowed Ryan’s lawyer to argue “duress”—the basis for her initial acquittal—but then decide not to order a retrial?
The answer seems related to my initial question: how could the courts brand Michael Ryan violent, abusive and controlling without having heard his testimony?
If he is all of those things, of course, then clearly Nicole Ryan has “suffered enough.”
But without having heard directly from Ryan—and being able to cross-examine his testimony—how can the court decide that this non accused, this “intended victim” is guilty of the most heinous allegations.
Senior Crown Attorney Peter Craig is right. It isn’t the Crown’s responsibility to protect the reputation of non-accused individuals—even intended victims—caught up in criminal cases. Their job is to make the best legal case.
But when the courts themselves draw damning conclusions about the reputation of someone who is not accused based on that very lack of testimony, we need to ask, is it just?