07/10/2013 09:31 EDT | Updated 09/09/2013 05:12 EDT

RCMP did all it could for woman who accused husband of abuse, review says

HALIFAX - A police watchdog says the RCMP did all it could for a woman who accused her husband of abuse and tried to have him killed, challenging a claim by the Supreme Court of Canada that the force ignored her pleas for help.

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP issued a lengthy review Wednesday into the way Nova Scotia detachments handled complaints by Nicole Doucet in 2007 and 2008.

Ian McPhail, the commission's interim chairman, said investigators focused on assertions that the RCMP didn't do enough to help the woman before she tried to hire a hitman to kill her ex-husband, Michael Ryan.

"The question is, did they take all reasonable steps, based on policy (and) on the information given to them? And our conclusion is that they did," McPhail said in an interview.

"They were at all times sensitive and thorough in their investigation."

Doucet, a teacher from western Nova Scotia, was arrested in 2008 when she tried to hire an undercover Mountie to kill Ryan, a member of the Canadian Forces.

She said in court proceedings that in the years after their marriage in 1992, he had pushed her, squeezed her neck, put guns to her head and threatened to kill her and their young daughter.

Doucet was acquitted in 2010 of counselling to commit murder when the trial judge found she was under duress due to abuse, and was not receiving help from police.

That ruling was later upheld by Nova Scotia's Court of Appeal.

She alleged that she sought assistance from police nine times in dealing with a violent husband, but was told they wouldn't intervene because they were deemed civil disputes.

The commission found the RCMP was not provided with enough information that would have given them "reasonable belief that there was violence in the relationship or that Ms. Doucet was in danger."

McPhail added that Doucet provided no information to allow for a criminal investigation.

The review says Doucet did not report any abuse to the agencies that came in contact with her, including Community Services, undercover police, a psychiatrist who assessed her and several RCMP officers.

The police reports reflect the increasing bitterness between the former spouses, who accused each other of either stealing mail, breaking into the house and removing fixtures from the home.

In one incident, Doucet's father was charged and convicted of using metal pipes to assault Ryan, who was given permission by the RCMP to go to Doucet's home and pick up some of his belongings.

In a subsequent interview with police, Doucet said she didn't know what happened. The commission said that lack of awareness "affects the reliability of her recollections of any incidents discussed."

The commission said there were about 25 incidents in which Ryan, Doucet and her family were mentioned, with many of them centring on disputes over shared properties.

The commission said there was one report of domestic violence, in which Doucet accused Ryan of threatening to burn down the house. She told police he was violent, but had never hit her.

Ryan was later arrested and charged, but the charges were dismissed. Doucet later told an investigator that she didn't know if the RCMP arrested Ryan or what actions police took, even though court documents indicate she was made aware of this.

Doucet's lawyer did not return a request for an interview.

Elizabeth Sheehy, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said it is common for victims of abuse to not report violence, appear vague in their accounts and lack corroboration. But she says that doesn't necessarily make their claims untrue.

"Women often deny abuse to different people," she said. "We know that women tell all sorts of versions in order to survive ... and that doesn't mean her assertions that there was abuse are incredible."

Sheehy, who has written extensively on battered women and sexual assault, said the commission's report also shouldn't impugn the courts' findings of abuse.

In January, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the duress defence was improperly applied at Doucet's trial but ordered a stay of proceedings, saying it would be unfair to subject her to a new trial. The high court also said the RCMP did not adequately respond to the woman's numerous calls for help, which the force had steadfastly denied.

"There is also the disquieting fact that, on the record before us, 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 judges wrote in the 8-1 decision.

As a result, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry called for the review amid public criticism about how the case was handled.

He said Wednesday that he was comfortable with the commission's findings and suggested the matter was closed, despite a call by Ryan for an inquiry into how the courts handled the case.

"This has been thoroughly reviewed and we need to accept the information that we have before us," Landry said when asked if he would launch such a probe.

Ryan said he has asked the minister to order a public inquiry so he could tell his story and challenge his ex-wife's allegations of abuse, which he has consistently maintained are untrue.

"I would have the opportunity to testify and give my version of the facts and rebut Nicole Doucet's allegations that I was an abusive father and husband," he said from his home in Ontario.

"This has cost me my reputation and my family has been affected by it very much and I really don't know if the public will ever know the truth."