Award-winning writer and broadcaster Stephen Kimber is a professor of journalism at University of King's College in Halifax. He writes about issues facing Halifax and Nova Scotia every Monday for Metro.
The Michael Ryan verdict - why didn't he testify?
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In the third last paragraph of his 2010 decision finding Nicole Ryan not guilty of hiring a hit man to kill her abusive husband, Justice David Farrar notes he was “struck” by the fact the husband “did not take the stand to give evidence with respect to any of the assertions … against him.”
During the trial, Michael Ryan had been accused of putting a gun to his wife’s head, threatening to torch their home with his wife and daughter inside and keeping his wife isolated from family and friends.
Why didn’t he testify?
Michael Ryan insists he was willing. He received a subpoena 10 months before the trial, contacted the Crown weeks before and even showed up for the first day of Nicole’s trial.
“I left my cellphone number with the Crown and waited out in the parking lot in my car for the remainder of the trial,” he emailed me in 2010. He was never called, never allowed to challenge his wife’s claims of horrific abuse.
There are plenty of reasons why the Crown might not have called him — including the possibility they didn’t believe him — but the reality is the court based its conclusions about him largely on Nicole Ryan’s testimony and that of her supporters.
Their evidence has now solidified into fact.
On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada — without hearing Ryan — declared him “violent, abusive and controlling.” Though the judges dismissed Nicole Ryan’s defence of duress, they ruled she had suffered enough and ordered charges against her stayed.
After the trial judge’s original damning decision back in 2010, I wrote a column for Metro, questioning what I then saw as the RCMP’s failure to help an abused woman escape while mounting a sting operation to entrap her.
In it, I described Michael Ryan as “a nasty piece of business.”
Ryan responded and we began an online correspondence, which you can read on my website, stephenkimber.com.
I don’t know whether to believe Michael Ryan’s counter-claims — could they simply be evidence of his “manipulative behaviour”? — but I am troubled by the fact the Crown never called him to testify. And the reality so many judges reached conclusions about him without ever hearing from the man who was, after all, the intended victim.