Advocates are calling for including the term "femicide" in the Criminal Code of Canada, ahead of a funeral service for a mother and daughter killed in Ottawa's Alta Vista neighbourhood three weeks ago.
The mother, 50-year-old Anne-Marie Ready, and her daughter, 15-year-old Jasmine Ready, were stabbed to death on the night of June 27. A third victim, 19-year old Catherine Ready, survived the fatal stabbing attack.
The suspect was the son of their next-door neighbour.
According to his family, 21-year-old Joshua Graves — who was shot and killed by police — had a "romantic" interest in one of the victims and had been told to stop contacting her. He was arrested and released for sexual assault and stalking another woman just days before attacking the Readys.
A funeral for Anne-Marie and Jasmine Ready is scheduled for Monday afternoon.
The tragedy took place the same day a high–profile coroner's inquest into the 2015 murders of three women in Renfrew County released 86 recommendations aimed at preventing and eradicating violence against women.
One of the recommendations made by the jury at the inquest was to include the term femicide in the Criminal Code of Canada, and another was to have it listed as a cause of death on coroner's reports.
Those recommendations are especially important right now, according to lawyer Pamela Cross, who sat on a panel of experts at the inquest.
"It's a way of saying [gender-based violence] has become such a serious problem in our society, that we need to give it its own name," said Cross.
'Clear acts of femicide'
Cross explained that the term femicide represents a very specific kind of killing — "the killing of a woman because of the fact that she's a woman."
Like the 2015 murders of Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton, Cross said the murders of the Readys were "clear acts of femicide."
Cross said there is a common misconception that such killings are solely related to intimate partner violence, but femicides go beyond domestic relationships.
According to Marlene Ham, executive director of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), there are four different categories of femicide: "intimate partner femicide, family, known relationships and unknown relationships."
Ham explained men charged with or deemed responsible for killing cis-women or trans-women might be a current partner, former partner, a family member or even an acquaintance.
OAITH compiles and publishes an annual list of femicides across the province. Anne-Marie and Jasmine Ready's deaths have now been added to that list.
Ham said since Nov. 2021, there have been 23 femicides across Ontario and in June of 2022, five cases were recorded in the province.
"We're on a dangerous trajectory here," Ham said.
But femicides can be prevented, she added, explaining that perpetrators often have a history of "red flags," which can be understood as "significant risk factors for lethality."
Some risk factors range from harassment and stalking to having a history of sexual assault or physical violence, said Ham.
"By understanding what those risk factors are that lead to lethality, we can also prevent femicide from occurring," she said.
"An acknowledgement [of femicide] within the Criminal Code, could provide a framework in which to understand the nuance and the significance of the crimes."
According to lawyer and former Crown attorney Megan Stephens, the move to criminalize femicide may push Canada's justice system and other government institutions to take gender-based violence more seriously, and combat it by dedicating more resources to preventing it.
Criminalizing femicide could also mean stricter parole eligibility conditions for offenders, Stephens said.
But it may be tricky to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a woman was killed because of her gender, in certain circumstances, depending on how the law is phrased, she said.
Inspire change at community level
Cross, who's a lawyer, explained that recognizing the term in the Criminal Code could also inspire change at a community level.
"It could be helpful to the next woman who thinks, 'wow, these are the kinds of things that are happening in my relationship. Maybe there's some steps I should be taking or some support I could be getting,'" explained Cross.
"It's going to get people thinking differently about the murders of women and that, in the long run, is what's going to lead to a reduction in the rates of violence against women and femicide in particular."
However, Cross added that criminalizing femicide is not a one-stop solution for violence against women, and much work needs to be done.
The federal government says it will "carefully review" the recommendations, a spokesperson for the Attorney General of Canada wrote in an email.
"Not including [femicide] as a crime in the Criminal Code would be a missed opportunity to make change," said Stephens.