Jo-Anne Dusel says she was surprised and disturbed when she learned about convicted murderer Colin Thatcher being invited to Saskatchewan's latest throne speech on Wednesday.
As the executive director of Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services (PATHS), Dusel is an advocate for victims of domestic violence.
Thatcher, a former provincial cabinet minister, was found guilty in 1984 of the first-degree murder of his ex-wife JoAnn Wilson, who was found beaten and shot to death in the garage of her home.
"What we shouldn't be doing is bringing someone with that history to a place of privilege, a place of power," said Dusel.
"It's an honour, you know, to be invited to the throne speech, and to honour someone who's committed so heinous an act [is] just really so unfortunate."
Thatcher, 84, was a cabinet minister under the Grant Devine government. He resigned from cabinet four days before Wilson was murdered.
Thatcher was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 25 years.
He was granted full parole in November 2006.
According to Statistics Canada data from 2019, Saskatchewan has the highest rate of reported intimate partner violence among all provinces and more than double the national rate.
There were at least 37 intimate partner homicide victims in the province between January 2015 and June 2020, according to the CBC investigative series Deadly Relationships.
Invitation was 'an error in judgment,' says MLA Lyle Stewart
While Dusel recognizes that the former Saskatchewan MLA served his prison sentence, she said inviting Thatcher to the throne speech showed a lack of understanding and a sense of normalization of domestic violence.
In a statement on Thursday, Saskatchewan government MLA Lyle Stewart said his decision to invite Thatcher as his guest to Wednesday's throne speech was an "error in judgment."
Dusel says she is happy that Stewart acknowledged his mistake of inviting Thatcher, but she is concerned about the message the incident might send to people.
"The message that's sent out to victims of intimate partner violence and to survivors of intimate partner violence is that what happened to them doesn't matter," she said.
"The message perhaps to those using violence in their relationship is equally or more so disturbing, that you can do the ultimate form of intimate partner violence — which is homicide or femicide — and you do your time and then it's good. You get welcomed back to your former life and yet ... the victim doesn't have that opportunity."
Thatcher still on parole
Barb Pacholik, city editor of the Regina Leader Post, told CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition that being granted full parole doesn't mean Thatcher's sentence is done.
Thatcher will remain under conditions of parole for the rest of his life, said Pacholik, who has written about his case for decades.
"I think what has people concerned is, you have a government that attends to give a throne speech that has a certain law and order element," she said.
"At the same time, you have this invited guest who killed his ex-wife in a province that has a horrible record when it comes to domestic violence."
Violence Prevention Week in Saskatchewan
Like Dusel, Stephanie Taylor was surprised by Thatcher's appearance at the throne speech two days ago.
Taylor, the executive director of the Regina Transition House, runs an emergency crisis shelter for women and children in the city.
She was especially concerned about the message this invitation might send, considering everything took place right in the middle of Saskatchewan's Violence Prevention Week — an annual awareness week — which runs from Oct. 24 to 28.
"It's just so contradictory," said Taylor. "I just feel like it wasn't considered … what message it could send."
This year's Violence Prevention Week is a partnership project between the province and a network called Saskatchewan Towards Offering Partnership Solutions (STOPS) to Violence.
The high level of concern with Thatcher's presence in the legislature highlights the seriousness of the issue of interpersonal violence, said STOPS to Violence executive director Tracy Knutson in an email to CBC.
The theme of this year's Violence Prevention Week is It Starts With You, encouraging people to help promote change in their homes, families and communities, she said.
"Mr. Thatcher's appearance can very quickly become a polarized conversation on whether an invitation to the throne speech ought to or ought not to have be extended," said Knutson.
"Let's not lose the key issue. There is a conditioned bias toward normalizing a culture of violence in this province."
Support is available for anyone affected by intimate partner violence. In Saskatchewan, www.pathssk.org has listings of available services across the province. You can access support services and local resources in Canada by visiting this website. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.
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