Ruzic was a 21 year old woman from Belgrade, Yugoslavia. A street thug approached her while she was walking her dog in Belgrade and threatened to kill her mother if Ruzic did not do as he asked. He knew everything about her, although she didn't know who he was. She was provided with a false Austrian passport and had three packages of heroin strapped to her body and was told to fly to Toronto and deliver the heroin to a restaurant. She was arrested upon arriving in Canada and was charged with possession of a false passport and importing narcotics. At trial she successfully challenged the constitutionality of s.17 of the Code and raised the common law defence of duress and was acquitted. The Crown's appeal was dismissed.
- Do the immediacy and presence requirements of s.17 of the Criminal Code infringe s.7 of the Charter?
- Does the common law defence of duress require immediacy and/or presence?
LeBel, writing for a unanimous court, holds that as Ruzic is the primary actor s.17 does apply to her. However, she has a problem because the person who made the threats is halfway around the world. She argues that the requirement that the threat be immediate and present is too limited and that it violates s.7 of the Charter. She argues that she is still acting involuntarily despite the fact that the person making the threat is so far away. The court accepts this, and says that moral voluntariness is a principle of fundamental justice protected under s.7; it is required for criminal liability. The court therefore states that s.17 is unconstitutional in part because of this violation, but they do not specifically address which parts are unconstitutional.
LeBel then lays out the common law rules for duress, which state that the threat only has to be made to yourself or someone else (not included in s.17). It does not talk about the threat needing to be immediate. It also requires no easy route of legal escape but does require a close temporal connection between the threat and the harm. They say that she meets these requirements, despite the fact that it seems like she had lots of ways out, and the appeal is dismissed.