This case concerned the availability of the defence of duress in the context of intimate partner violence. 

LEAF, in partnership with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada. 


Nicole Doucet was charged with counseling to commit murder, after she agreed to pay a hit-man, actually an undercover police officer, to kill her husband. At her trial, the judge accepted Ms. Doucet’s testimony regarding the extensive history of physical, psychological and sexual violence at the hands of her husband, including instances of death threats, stalking, strangulation and assault with a weapon. Mr. Ryan told Ms. Doucet that he would kill her and their daughter if she ever tried to leave.  

The trial judge found that the common law defence of duress applied, and acquitted Ms. Doucet. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal upheld the acquittal. The Crown appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. 


LEAF and CAEFS argued that women’s equality demanded that there be some defence available in law where women facing a grave danger to themselves or their children have no real choice as to how to protect themselves. If duress was not available, then self-defence or necessity were available defences.  


The Supreme Court allowed the Crown’s appeal, and held that the defence of duress was not available to Ms. Doucet. However, a majority of the Court held that, in the circumstances of the case, it would be unfair to order Ms. Doucet to face a new trial.  

LEAF is grateful to Christine Boyle and Joanna Birenbaum, counsel in this case, as well as Nadia Effendi, Ottawa agent for LEAF and CAEFS.

Download the factum here.  

Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision here

Our records are imperfect, but we are doing our best to update them – if you were involved with LEAF on this case but your name is not reflected here, please email us at [email protected].