5 ways to help prevent intimate-partner violence from the triple-homicide inquest

·5 min read
The murders of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton are being examined during a coroner's inquest in Renfrew County over the course of the next three weeks, with a focus on intimate partner violence and preventing future instances of domestic homicide.  (CBC News - image credit)
The murders of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton are being examined during a coroner's inquest in Renfrew County over the course of the next three weeks, with a focus on intimate partner violence and preventing future instances of domestic homicide. (CBC News - image credit)

When neighbours are asked about acts of intimate partner violence that end in next-door murder, they sometimes remark they "can't believe that happened here," psychologist Dr. Peter Jaffe said.

That feeling highlights the need for more public education about domestic violence and its early warning flags, said Jaffe, one of several witnesses testifying during a coroner's inquest focused one of Canada's worst cases of multiple-partner violence

The inquest in Pembroke, Ont., is examining the Sept. 22, 2015 deaths of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam, who were all murdered by the same man they knew in and around Renfrew County, west of Ottawa.

Basil Borutski was convicted of three counts of murder in a jury trial and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 70 years.

Five inquest jurors are being asked to suggest concrete ways survivors of domestic violence in rural communities can be better protected and supported in the future.

Jaffe, a recent director at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women & Children, reviewed nearly 10,000 documents in the murderer's case and testified there more than 100 opportunities to intervene before the murderous rampage.

"The number of threats the perpetrator made … the number of people who were concerned about his risk and didn't know what to do — I think this public education is essential."

Jaffe said the Ontario government should air ads about intimate partner violence during widely viewed events such as the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"Violence against women is still not a very popular issue. Nobody really wants to talk about it. And we don't address it as fully as we could and should," he said.

At various points in the inquest, Jaffe and other experts have suggested what the jury should ultimately recommend at the end of the three-week process.

Besides advertisements, here are only four of the many other suggestions so far.

More supervision during probation 

Jaffe said Ontario's probation and parole service was probably more actively involved with the perpetrator than other agencies, but "without shame or blame, I think the [province] could really enhance their probation policies."

"There needs to be more intense supervision [including weekly check-ins], reporting or more frequent victim contact," he said.

The triple murderer had been convicted of assaulting and attempting to choke Kuzyk the year before she was fatally shot and was on a lifetime weapons ban. He also broke his probation by not taking part in a domestic violence response program, but was never charged with breaching any of his conditions.

The man struggled with mental health and pain management that may have fed a drug addition, Jaffe said.

"Perpetrators present with multiple problems that require multiple solutions," he said.

A probation and parole manager is scheduled to testify at the inquest next week.

Warning future victims through Clare's Law

Last year, Alberta was the second province to enact a law (named after U.K. victim Clare Wood) meant to curb domestic abuse by allowing people to file applications for information about their intimate partner.

Both Jaffe and Pamela Cross, a lawyer and women's advocate testifying on behalf of End Violence Against Women Renfrew County, said Ontario should be the next province to pass it.

"This would allow somebody to go to their local police service and ask for information about somebody they're involved with," she said, adding it would especially help people dating new partners.

Information might come from family court, criminal court and police files, she said.

Jaffe said Ontario has a committee that reviews domestic killings and it has learned of victims who met their abusers via online dating websites.

"There's no regulation on those websites about prior warning," he said.

Stable funding for women's shelters and aid groups

Government funding of services for women and children has allowed shelters for abused victims to operate "without constant scrambling for the basic money to operate," Cross said.

But the inquest has also heard that aid groups still struggle to receive adequate funding.

There needs to be sustainable funding across Canada that recognizes the complexity of intimate partner violence, Cross said.

"Build enough money into funding organizations, large or small, so that reporting [back to grant providers] doesn't become an onerous task that takes away somebody who should be sitting with a woman, counselling her or making a safety plan with her," Cross said.

"That's what my magic wand would do."

WATCH | The story behind the inquest's 'magic wands':

Better training for those dealing with victims

Before the 1980s, the onus was on Canadian victims of intimate partner violence to press charges. Since then, police are required to charge abusers if they believe they have reasonable grounds to do so, the inquest has heard.

That shift has had some unintended consequences, Cross and Jaffe testified. Racialized groups have faced discrimination, and some victims have been charged in the confusion of some domestic abuse scenes.

The murderer's case showed the need for the province to improve training on intimate partner violence for all police officers, Crown attorneys and probation officers, Jaffe wrote in his report to the inquest.

That training has to stress that assessing someone's risk to commit abuse is a constant process, and must include safety planning for the victim.

The inquest has heard, in addition to having a panic button, Warmerdam kept a gun for self-defence in her room.

"Police officers, Crowns and probation clearly identified [the killer] as high risk in the years prior to the homicides," Jaffe wrote.

"There were times when the level of risk was not matched to the level of safety planning and risk management that were required in these very challenging circumstances."

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