Painting the national police force in a vastly different light than the Supreme Court of Canada, an RCMP watchdog has found that the Mounties conducted “reasonable investigations” into prior allegations of domestic abuse by a Nova Scotia woman who hired a hit man to kill her husband.
Last January, in an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada stayed counseling-to-commit-murder charges against Nicole Doucet Ryan, a high school teacher who had been caught trying to hire an undercover RCMP officer to kill her husband. The case had been highlighted as an crucial ruling by advocates who lobby for the rights of battered women in Canada.
The facts are not contentious, though the legal defence is very much so. Over seven months in 2008 Ms. Ryan made repeated attempts to find someone to kill her husband, and was prepared to pay $25,000 for the job. After she was caught hiring an undercover Mountie for the job, she claimed she did so only in response to suffering years of abuse at the hands of her Canadian Forces soldier husband, Michael Ryan, and that she had many times tried and failed to get help from RCMP (the police force of jurisdiction in rural Nova Scotia) in stopping the abuse.
The lower courts had acquitted Ms. Ryan. The Supreme Court of Canada charted a middle course, reversing the acquittal but also staying the prosecution and effectively ending the case unresolved -- though doing so in a manner broadly supportive of Ms. Ryan.
“There is also the disquieting fact that it seems that the authorities were much quicker to intervene to protect Mr. Ryan than they had been to respond to her request for help in dealing with his reign of terror over her,” the Supreme Court ruled in January. “… It is an exceptional situation that warrants an exceptional remedy. In all of the circumstances, it would not be fair to subject Ms. Ryan to another trial.”
This ruling led the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP to revisit the Mounties’ role in Ms. Ryan’s past allegations of abuse.
And, after six months, chair Ian McPhail gives the police force a passing grade for its job, saying that he reviewed 25 occurrences in which Ms. Ryan, Mr. Ryan, or both had some involvement with the RCMP, 12 of which involved direct conflict between the two parties.
In a statement released 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Mr. McPhail writes that “It is my conclusion that the RCMP did not refuse to assist Ms. Doucet [Ryan], on the contrary, RCMP members were responsive to the family’s conflict.”
“I conclude that the RCMP acted reasonably in each of its dealings with Ms. Doucet [Ryan] and her family and did not fail to protect her.”
One part of the Mr. McPhail’s review of the case finds that Ms. Ryan's insistence that the RCMP failed to protect her “negatively impacts [her] credibility and reliability." The report goes into exhaustive account of the police interactions with the feuding couple.
Overall, the watchdog's review shows that the Ryans’ relationship was a polarizing matter for Mounties assigned to the Meteghan detachment in Nova Scotia. One officer is quoted saying that police believed that Ms. Ryan had “some very serious mental health issues” -- a stance that put him at odds with another officer who told the watchdog agency that he was more concerned with Ms. Ryan’s safety and wanted to get a “panic button” for her.
According to the report, the troubles had started in the fall of November 2007 when the couple was in the midst of separating and were working out visitation rights for their daughter. They were also arguing over several investment properties they had bought together during their marriage.
The first documented police contact was a Nov. 23, 2007, call placed by Ms. Ryan (who police refer to by her maiden name) as her husband was coming to pick up their daughter. “Ms. Doucet reported that Mr. Ryan was upset … that Mr. Ryan had a history of violence that she feared for her safety, that Mr. Ryan had access to firearms,” reads the report.
When police got to the home, Ms. Ryan told the RCMP that he had had threatened to burn down the house. She also played voice mail phone messages he had left for her but the constable who heard them relayed that they “contained no threats.” Still, police brought Ms. Ryan to “a safe place for the evening,” police say.
The next day, Ms. Ryan gave a statement to police alleging that her husband “had never hit her” but was “verbally aggressive and manipulative.” “He said that he would burn the house and ruin my reputation in the community,” she said in the sworn statement to the Mounties. “And he would phone the police on me and tell them I was an unfit mother.”
Those allegations led to Mr. Ryan’s arrest that week, where he was charged with uttering threats. He had denied the allegations against him, but police assessed him as a “high risk” and seized registered firearms in his house, according to the watchdog agency’s report.
But the investigation stalled for lack of evidence. When the watchdog agency probed why they were told by RCMP Constable Christian Thibaudeau that all police had to go on was hearsay.
Recalling his initial conversation with Ms. Ryan, the constable said it went this way. “Has he threatened to kill you? No. Has he every done anything -- violence, rape, assault, threats to, to kill, threats to hurt you? No, no, no. I’m just scared of him. All right. And then I explained to her … well for us to do something we need grounds …”
After the threat charges against Mr. Ryan were dismissed for no reasonable prospect of conviction, there were other police contacts, according to the watchdog report.
On Dec. 6, 2007, the husband called police to complain the family dog had been left out over night without food, shelter or water. Police called the wife, and she told them her husband could come get the dog if he was concerned. Instead, an RCMP constable picked up the dog and put it in a shelter.
On Dec. 16, 2007, the husband called police to complain that his in-laws were trespassing on a family property.
The next day, Ms. Ryan moved out of the marital home, and her husband asked police if he could return to the residence and pick up some things -- and police said that would be okay.
Then, “Ms. Doucet’s father, sister, and brother-in-law arrived on the property armed with metal pipes. It appears from the documentation in the file that Ms. Doucet’s father assaulted Mr. Ryan,” the watchdog report says. “Mr. Ryan sustained serious injuries …”
Police charged the husband’s father-in-law with assault; when they questioned Ms. Ryan about the incident she claimed to have no knowledge of it.
“Given the severity of the incident, the fact that Ms. Doucet does not know what occurred or the circumstances surrounding the assault affects the reliability of her recollections,” the watchdog’s report says.
In early January, 2008, Mr. Ryan called the RCMP to complain that his wife had been stealing his mail. The Mounties found no grounds to lay theft charges.
Later that month, Ms. Ryan relayed to the Mounties that her husband had threatened to kill their dog -- and that she felt unsafe. “Suddenly he becomes crazy and violent … it happens in a flash, he is very violent,” she told the RCMP. “He’s always been violent that’s all I can say.”
The report says that Ms. Ryan relayed that she was told by a victim-services worker that some battered women can get a “panic button” -- a new tool that gives them a direct line to the cops. She requested one, but RCMP did not follow through, given local police had no experience in acquiring this tool, that there were only two or three in use in Nova Scotia, and that the threat against Ms. Ryan was felt to be relatively low.
“I find that it was reasonable for Corporal Thibaudeau to determine that Ms. Doucet was not elgible for a ‘panic button’ or similar device,” Mr. McPhail’s report says.
That February, a principal at the school Ms. Ryan taught at called police after seeing her husband in the parking lot trying to retrieve a car the couple owned. No charges followed from this incident, but it did lead the wife to later complain that the Mounties were protecting her husband because he was a Canadian Forces soldier.
Yet “none of the available information supports a determination that the RCMP afforded special treatment to Mr. Ryan as a result of his standing as a member of the military,” reads the watchdog agency report.
In digging through records, the watchdog agency found no criminal history for the husband. But Mr. McPhail writes the wife, Ms. Ryan, had faced allegations of a crime in the past -- she was once accused “of attempting to run her sister over with her car,” the report says.
The watchdog agency’s report says that investigators pressed Ms. Ryan following her court appearances on why she had never told police that her husband physically assaulted her or threatened her with guns. While she made these allegations in court, she had not made them to police directly.
“I don’t have proof, and I know you need proof. Without proof, they can’t do anything,” she replied, according to the watchdog agency’s report. “So what is the point of even saying anything?”
After Ms. Ryan was arrested for hiring a hit man, she argued in an interview with investigators that she should have gotten counselling instead of being targeted by a police sting operation.
“If they found out that I was conspiring to commit murder, why didn’t anybody come down and say ‘Nicole you’ve got to sit down. … Ma’am maybe you should see a psychologist?’” she said, according to the report. “… SO they knew there was something psychologically wrong with me…”
Given the circumstances, Mr. McPhail writes in his report, Ms. Ryan’s expectations of police were “in almost every respect, unrealistic.”
"None of the RCMP records supports a conclusion that information was either apparent on its face or conveyed to the RCMP such that members could determine that Ms. Doucet was being abused by her husband," he writes. “Each RCMP member interviewed is adamant that he or she repeatedly asked Ms. Doucet probing questions and attempted to determine the basis of her fears to no avail."