Battered Women Under Duress: The Supreme Court of Canada's Abandonment of Context and Purpose in R. v. Ryan
Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, Spring 2017, Forthcoming
35 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2016 Last revised: 31 Jan 2017
Date Written: October 20, 2015
The case of R. v. Ryan presented the Supreme Court of Canada with a novel question: may a wife, whose life is threatened by her abusive husband, rely on the defence of duress when she tries to have him murdered? In this article we argue that by answering this novel question in the negative, the Court missed an opportunity to clarify the nature and scope of the defence of duress in the context of battered and abused women in a principled manner and thereby enhance access to justice and equal benefit of the law. Instead, the Court retreated into a purely formalist doctrinal defence of the boundary separating duress and self-defence. In doing so, the Court not only failed in its responsibility to make the law less unsettled and piecemeal, more coherent and more just, but it also set back the judicial treatment of battered woman’s syndrome by more than a quarter century, harking back to the period prior to the Court’s groundbreaking decision in R. v. Lavallee.
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