The Current

Do abused women have the right to kill their abusers?

University of Ottawa law professor Elizabeth Sheehy argues a battered woman who kills an abusive partner is comparable to a prisoner of war killing a captor-- and should be legal.
University of Ottawa law professor Elizabeth Sheehy argues a battered woman who kills an abusive partner is comparable to a prisoner of war killing a captor — and should be legal. (Reuters)

Law professor Elizabeth Sheehy has examined 91 cases of women who have killed their partners in Canada since a landmark decision in 1990 established Battered Wife Syndrome as a defence. She has concluded that severely abused women are morally justified in killing their abusers. Elizabeth Sheehy states her case.

How far should a battered woman be able to go to end an abusive relationship?

Nearly a quarter century ago, a 1990 case involving Angelique Lyn Lavallee, who shot and killed her abusive common law husband, introduced "Battered Wife Syndrome" as admissible evidence in building a case of self-defence.

1990: Supreme Court accepts battered wife syndrome defence -- CBC Digital Archives

Has it changed the way the courts treat battered women who kill?

University of Ottawa law professor Elizabeth Sheehy has spent the past 8 years researching that question.

Her new book, Defending battered Women on Trial has attracted a lot of attention for the window it has opened on battered women and the judicial system.

But also for her argument that these women may be morally justified in killing their tormentors since it may be the only way they can escape.

Elizabeth Sheehy was in Ottawa.

Even the most sympathetic observer of domestic violence might wonder if abused women have a moral and legal right to ambush and kill a tormentor.

Ivana Vaccaro practices exclusively in the area of family law at the firm Raviele Vaccaro LLP. Much of her practice involves representing victims of domestic violence. She was in our Toronto studio.

This segment was produced by The Current's Peter Mitton and Debbie Pacheco.

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