Experts at a coroner's inquest into the murders of three rural Ontario women by the same man are calling for more oversight to ensure recommendations stemming from inquests involving intimate partner violence actually result in change.
"If there isn't a recommendation to hold someone accountable for implementing these recommendations, we're going to wonder why we spent three weeks in this room," said Pamela Cross, a lawyer and women's advocate testifying on a panel of experts on day two of the inquest.
On Sept. 22, 2015, Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were murdered by the same man in Renfrew County, west of Ottawa. The killer, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 70 years, knew all three women.
The inquest into their deaths began Monday and is expected to hear from around 30 witnesses over 15 days in Pembroke, Ont.
In addition to examining the circumstances around the murders, the five jurors are tasked with recommending concrete ways survivors of domestic violence in rural communities can be better protected and supported.
Cross said an independent commission is needed to hold the groups who face inquest recommendations accountable. The Ontario government is expected to shoulder many of the jurors' recommendations.
"There are a lot of people who are really tired of telling those in power what needs to happen, when nothing ever changes," Cross said.
The commission should be run by people who are informed about the issue of intimate partner violence, she added.
WATCH | Inquest has 'a lot of potential' to change intimate partner violence in rural communities:
Over 100 more femicides since triple homicide
Marlene Ham, the executive director of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, testified that her organization is aware of 111 media-reported intimate partner femicides in Ontario from the day after the murders of Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam to Nov. 26, 2021, when the most recent data was available.
"We're continuing to have more every month," Ham said. "That's why having the recommendations have an accountability process can be really, really important.
"These deaths are preventable."
WATCH | Data on femicides since these murders:
After inquests, the Office of the Chief Coroner hands recommendations off to relevant organizations for implementation. Recipients are asked to respond within six months to say whether recommendations were implemented or not, and if not, to state their rationale.
Ontario also has a Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, which reviews domestic killings of women, men and children. The committee has made more than 400 recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths stemming from reviews of more than 250 cases up to 2018. Organizations are similarly asked to report back within six months.
Data on the response to the committee's recommendations appear to be unavailable, even by request. And no changes recommended by either the committee or inquest juries are legally binding.
Amanda Dale, the former executive director of a gender-based violence clinic in Toronto, is attending the inquest. She agreed more accountability to ensure follow-through on recommendations is needed.
"This gives people faith in the systems we set up," she said. "If we don't make that change, if we don't have an accountability mechanism, then I'm afraid we just make reports."
Previous inquests involving intimate partner violence resulted in calls for a committee of government and non-government members to oversee the process of implementing recommendations — which hasn't happened, the inquest heard.
More than just physical abuse
Cross and the other panel members also spoke about the range of abuses, not just physical, that victims of intimate partner violence experience, as well as the challenges victims face in dealing with abusers.
Cross said the abuse can be financial and psychological. She cited one woman who sought aid at Luke's Place, a family law support centre serving people in the Regional Municipality of Durham. Cross said the woman's partner had control of their house's smart home system and used it to abuse her by blaring music and turning the heat down.
Basil Borutski, the man convicted in the murders of Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam, burned sentimental childhood items belonging to Kuzyk. He left behind signs at the cottage belonging to Culleton, where he did unsolicited work on the home, said Mark Zulinski, a retired Ontario Provincial Police inspector who provided an overview of Borutski's behaviour.
Borutski was on probation and on a lifetime weapons ban when he carried out his killing rampage. Two of his victims were fatally shot.
Access to guns increases the chances of women being exposed to domestic violence by 500 per cent, said Ham.
Valerie Warmerdam, the daughter of Nathalie Warmerdam, one of Borutski's victims, testified on Monday about a conversation her mother had with a neighbour who said he had an abusive stepfather growing up.
The neighbour told Nathalie Warmerdam that if a firearm had been available to him, he probably would have killed his stepfather, Valerie Warmerdam said.
The threat posed by Borutski prompted Nathalie Warmerdam to keep a gun for self-defence under her bed, Valerie Warmerdam added.
Lisa Oegema, the final expert to testify Tuesday, was the founding executive director of Victim Services Renfrew County.
She said the small size of communities in the county can work against victims.
"That can work in your favour — if [people] get violence against women," Oegema said. "That can work against you because it's a gossipy community."
Valerie Warmerdam testified Monday that when her mother pressed charges against Borutski, friends came to their house "and had a conversation along the lines of, 'How could you?'"
Facing such social stigma is "certainly a factor" when a victim weighs whether to press charges, she added.