Ontario's probation service could have been in more frequent contact with the victims of a 2015 Renfrew County triple homicide — including when the murderer was branded a high risk to recommit intimate partner violence just months before his killing rampage, a coroner's inquest heard.
"In this case, I think victim contact could have been made more frequently," testified James Pearson, a quality assurance manager for the probation service. "That is open for areas of improvement."
Abusers deemed high risk should generally be met with "increases in most aspects of case management," including "more direct and purposeful contacts" with victims "on a prescribed schedule," Pearson said.
Pearson's testimony came on the 13th day of an inquest examining the killings of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam in and around Renfrew County.
On Sept. 22, 2015, a man with a known history of gender-based violence murdered all three women after repeatedly flouting his probation orders without reprimand. Basil Borutski was convicted of three counts of murder in a jury trial and is in prison.
Inquest jurors, who are hearing from experts and first-hand witnesses in the case, are being tasked with recommending changes to policies and protocols to better protect and support survivors of intimate partner violence in rural communities.
Earlier in the inquest, an internal probation service review written just over a month after the murders was entered into the record. It found probation officers missed opportunities to more closely monitor him, including gathering more information about him from collateral contacts, such as victims.
Borutski was convicted in 2012 of threatening Warmerdam's son and assaulting a police officer and in 2014 of brutally beating Kuzyk. In both cases, he served some jail time and was released on the conditions that he not possess weapons and that he attend a counselling program meant for men who abuse their partners.
He never attended the program and fatally shot Kuzyk and Warmerdam.
Pearson, who previously worked as a probation officer in Lanark County and Ottawa for 11 years, had no direct involvement in the case, nor did he speak to any probation staff who did, he said.
But after reviewing records, Pearson testified Wednesday about the steps probation officers did or didn't take as the offender's level of risk was continually reassessed.
Victim contact became 'less regular'
The probation service initially contacted Warmerdam a week after Borutski was released in early 2013 after his conviction related to her. Contact with Warmerdam then became "less regular," Pearson said. Notes indicated she was "well-connected" with Ontario's Victim/Witness Assistance program, he added.
He was then jailed for assaulting Kuzyk. Based on his review of the file, Pearson said that after he was released in December 2014 and Kuzyk was called, contact with her was not maintained.
Contact with victims is based on "the risk level posed," Pearson said.
He was deemed a high risk to reoffend in both December 2014 and February 2015 — seven months before the murders — according to a chronology of events circulated during the inquest.
Pearson was asked why he was not first assessed using a tool specifically for domestic violence abusers until October 2013, 10 months after his release.
He said he believed it did not happen earlier because while the conviction contained "some concerning and egregious domestic violence charges," it involved assault against a police officer and not Warmerdam herself.
Pearson was also asked about what information the probation service received about Borutski when he was released in 2013. One of the lawyers at the inquest pointed out that the probation order stated he should receive substance abuse counselling "as directed by" his probation officer.
Pearson said Borutski's brother and doctor indicated no concerns in that area, whereas Warmerdam warned that he got violent when drinking.
He was not referred to the counselling, Pearson said.
"Do you think it's good practice to consider the victim's information about triggers of violence in a domestic violence perpetrator to be less important than other sources?" Warmerdam's daughter, Valerie Warmerdam, asked Pearson.
"Certainly not," he replied.
Enforcement rules changed
He never attended court-ordered counselling for people who abuse their partners and was not charged with breaching the conditions of his probation order, the inquest has heard.
Initially, the programming was being offered in an area he was banned from, but when that situation was resolved he still didn't go.
He then cited transportation as an issue because he had restrictions on his ability to drive, Pearson said. The probation service considered that a reasonable excuse and referred him to the program again with a planned January 2014 start date because that driving restriction was expected to expire then.
He was arrested and jailed that same month for beating Kuzyk. Once released on probation after that conviction, he still didn't go to the program, citing confusion and anxiety.
"Tolerance" for offenders not complying with the conditions in their probation orders once they're deemed high risk should be "decreased," Pearson said.
"In this case, I think we can see we woud have liked additional direction and enforcement. There's a gap there."
Pearson said policy has been changed in recent years to require a probation officer to make a decision about enforcement of probation conditions within one day of concerns about a high-risk domestic violence offender being known.
The counselling for abusers is now being offered in three locations in Renfrew County, instead of just the one that was available at the time Borutski was on probation, Pearson added.
Other system changes since the murders
The internal probation service review that found missed opportunities for monitoring Borutski had recommended that the counselling program be made more accessible to people in rural Ontario. The Ministry of the Solicitor General has since created a funding pool to help offenders attend programming.
Mandatory "refresher" training was launched for probation and parole officers who have been serving for more than five years, Pearson said.
Twenty-five positions were added to help offenders who are in custody develop a release plan with a probation officer, though Pearson said he didn't know whether any of those positions were added in Renfrew County.
The findings of the internal review were shared with probation service managers and officials at the Ministry of the Solicitor General but not with other probation officers, Pearson said, citing employee confidentiality.
"It simply wouldn't be something that we would do," he said.