02/01/2013 02:30 EST | Updated 04/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia RCMP deny they ignored allegations of domestic abuse in hit man case

HALIFAX - The RCMP in Nova Scotia are dismissing a reference in a Supreme Court of Canada decision that says they did not adequately respond to a woman's calls for help before she tried to hire a hit man to kill the husband she said was abusing her.

The case of Nicole Ryan attracted national attention last month when the Supreme Court took the rare step of ordering a stay of proceedings, saying it would be unfair to subject her to a new trial.

Ryan was arrested in 2008 when she tried to hire an undercover RCMP officer to kill Michael Ryan, who was accused in court documents of threatening to kill her and her daughter.

The teacher from southwestern Nova Scotia was originally acquitted of counselling to commit murder in 2010, a decision that was upheld by the province's appeal court.

In its Jan. 18 ruling that ultimately stayed the charges, the Supreme Court also questioned the RCMP's conduct in the case, saying it was "disquieting" they mounted a sting operation to arrest Nicole Ryan rather than respond to her husband's threats.

"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 ruling said.

"While she had engaged the police and other agencies in an effort to assist her in the past, the evidence was that her problems were viewed as a 'civil matter.'"

Nicole Ryan's lawyer, Joel Pink, has argued that his client called police at least nine times seeking protection from her husband. Pink could not be reached for comment Friday.

In response to the criticism of how the Mounties responded to Nicole Ryan's calls, the commanding officer for the RCMP in Nova Scotia released a statement Friday saying officers had acted appropriately and professionally.

Assistant commissioner Alphonse MacNeil said an internal review confirmed the RCMP did not receive a "multitude" of complaints from Nicole Ryan about domestic violence.

"We responded when she called us," MacNeil said in an interview.

"If she had given us information when we were there to indicate that she had been assaulted or threatened, we would have proceeded with laying a charge."

He said he didn't know how many times police responded to Nicole Ryan's residence or how many times she called to ask for help. But he said there was only one time — in November 2007 — when she accused her husband of threatening her, which resulted in a charge of uttering threats against Michael Ryan.

MacNeil said a court order subjected Michael Ryan to several conditions and police seized weapons from his home, but the charge was later withdrawn by the Crown.

The RCMP commander said some of Nicole Ryan's other calls to police involved civil matters, such as arguments the separated couple were having over ownership of property.

At one point, he said, police were called because the couple's dog had been left outside in the cold, again because of a dispute over ownership.

"Those examples have nothing to do with domestic violence," MacNeil said.

"Based on my review, there was nothing in there ... where we could lay charges or take further action."

MacNeil stressed he was concerned media reports had suggested the RCMP wasn't interested in dealing with domestic violence.

"There was an impression left that we didn't respond when she called. We did respond when she called. We did what we could to protect her in those cases."

Michael Ryan came forward shortly after the Supreme Court decision to argue that the allegations against him are false, and that he was never given the opportunity to defend himself in court.

Pink has said he has no doubt his client is telling the truth and that the trial judge made a finding on evidence. The Crown says Michael Ryan was not called because it was felt his evidence wasn't necessary to refute his wife's defence of duress.

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