Pembroke -- It was an experienced officer at the Killaloe Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) who connected the dots between the two 911 calls that came in 27 minutes apart on a sunny autumn day in 2015 when the same man killed two local women.
The ongoing inquest into the deaths of Anastasia Kuzyk, 36, Nathalie Warmerdam, 48, and Carol Culleton, 66, heard testimony about the timelines on the day of the murder of the three area women who were killed by a man they all knew on the morning of September 22. The first call about an incident in Wilno came at 8:52 a.m. and the first OPP officers arrived at the scene 8 minutes later.
It was Detective Constable Stacey Solmon of the OPP's Killaloe detachment who connected the dots and alerted fellow officers over the police radio women in both locations had been victims of domestic violence. The police team immediately realized there were other potential victims to notify or protect.
“The minute I heard the address in Wilno, I knew that it was Anastasia’s house,” she stated at the inquest.
She testified that, "everybody in our detachment was aware of him (Basil Borutski) and his history."
The inquest also heard the OPP critical incident commander, Superintendent Derek Needham, testify while he was briefed on the Kuzyk 911 call, he did not have access to the call recording and knew "nothing about the previous intimate partner violence."
According to Dt. Const. Solman, Mr. Borutski was classified in an OPP database under the categories of "family violence, mental health, alcohol and hates police."
That information would not have been immediately available to the dispatcher who took the 911 call. Dt. Const Solman told the inquest she had been aware of Mr. Borutski since 2004. He had been flagged for mental health and alcohol abuse in January 2010 and for family violence in 2011. She met Ms. Warmerdam in August 2012, when the OPP had to return firearms to Borutski after another matter was stayed in court.
Superintendent Needham testified he was in Perth when the call about a man with a gun at a residence in Wilno came in. He immediately headed for Wilno while making calls to mobilize the emergency response team and a tactical unit based in Odessa, west of Kingston. He told the inquest in situations such as this, the priority was ‘containment’ to ensure the gunman did not leave the residence. Until the second call, 27 minutes later from Foymount Road, police believed the man who would be convicted of the murders was still in the house in Wilno. Supt.Needham explained the police operate on a principle in an incidence such as this, there may be a second perpetrator, so police continued to watch the house in Wilno.
As he learned Ms. Warmerdam’s son was hiding in the bush, Superintendent Needham headed to Foymount Road where officers now believed the gunman was in the Warmerdam house. He showed the inquest an overhead view of the property with exposed open fields in front and dense bush behind. Officers arrived at the home unsure about whether Mr. Borutski was still there and had concern for the safety of officers and Ms. Warmerdam's son, who had obeyed his mother’s safety plan and run into the bush.
"They were still worried about the barrel of a long gun pointing out a window," he said of officers.
With the connection to Mr. Borutski established, police now obtained his cell number and tried to ‘ping’ a location which came back as being near the courthouse in Pembroke.
"That made a lot of sense because some of the potential further targets that day, including the court office, Crown attorneys, as well as several other potential targets, were in the City of Pembroke," he testified.
Twenty minutes later, a second ping came back as near Kinburn. Supt.Needham, who knew the area, was aware it wasn’t possible to drive from Pembroke to Kinburn in twenty minutes. He now split his resources, diverting some to Kinburn and others to Ottawa as potential targets had been identified there. At the same time, the OPP put out alerts to the public via radio and social media as well as notifying potential victims and locking down local schools and the courthouse. The inquest heard from a former director of Ontario's Victim/Witness Assistance Program Mr. Borutski had a list of "people he was seeking revenge on."
One of his other former partners was taken to safety at a detachment, family members were called, and officers went to Ms. Warmerdam’s daughter’s school on the day of the murders, the inquest heard Wednesday. Later that afternoon, Mr. Borutski was arrested at a property near Kinburn. The unregistered and untraceable shotgun he had used in the two shooting deaths was found nearby.
The inquest later heard Mr. Borutski, who had previously been convicted of domestic violence against both Ms. Kuzyk and Ms. Warmerdam, had twice been prohibited from owning guns. Matt Storey, an OPP officer with the Chief Firearms Office of Ontario, told the inquest a judge can issue a prohibition order with a maximum of 10 years. In certain cases, such as criminal harassment, there is also a mandatory prohibition that covers all firearms for life.
Mr. Borutski had received a lifetime prohibition in 2014 but continued to carry a firearms possession and acquisition licence in his wallet although his licence had been revoked in 2012. His card was not seized by police because the court had not specifically made that order. One way he could have acquired a gun in 2015 was simply by presenting the possession and acquisition licence (PAL) to a private seller.
That loophole has been changed as of May 18, 2022; now all sales of firearms, whether person to person or through a business, requires verification of valid licences. If there is a red flag on the buyer’s licence, the PAL information will be designated as “not valid”. A PAL can be reviewed or revoked immediately over various issues including certain criminal charges or if a suspect is apprehended under the Mental Health Act.
To acquire a PAL, an applicant must take and pass a course on safe gun handling. The application asks a number of questions including a personal history and the name of spouse and ex-spouse(s). An application could raise several red flags, he said.
Mr. Borutski had received a renewal of his PAL in 2012 and had his licence returned.
Sgt. Storey said that, when he was appointed to the firearms office, he took it upon himself to revoke and refuse more licences because of red flags.
“The Firearms Act allows us to revoke or refuse those licences. We’re determined we’re going to do this in a more proactive fashion,” he said.
The inquest had previously heard concerns around gun ownership from Deborah Kasdorff, a former manager of the Victim/Witness Assistance Program in Renfrew County who said she would often learn about firearms in the home during the bail process.
Ms. Warmerdam had previously signed as a surety of Mr. Borutski’ s bail conditions, which included a firearms prohibition, and had taken a firearms safety course so that she could legally be responsible for his guns which may be needed on the farm for predator control or for putting down a sick animal.
Police had expressed their concerns to Ms. Warmerdam who assured them that the guns would be locked in a gun safe with an additional chain and padlock. When additional charges were later laid against Mr. Borutski, she arranged to have the guns seized while he was in custody.
While he had also been prohibited from access to ammunition, he claimed he had found shotgun shells while helping a friend clean out cars in a junkyard.
“And the reality is, in Renfrew County, that’s very believable. You clean out 50 cars and the odds of finding some calibre or type of bullet rolled under seats or sitting in the ashtrays or whatever is quite reasonably believable,” Ms. Warmerdam’s daughter Valerie told the inquest.
She also questioned whether there might have been a way to notify her mother of the danger on the morning of the murders.
Gap in Information Sharing
Kirsten Mercer, the lawyer representing End Violence Against Women Renfrew County, suggested during her cross-examination of Supt. Needham that more could have been done.
“If there's a system that we can put in place to make sure that everybody has better information faster, and that means we save someone the next time, then that's exactly the kind of thing that this inquest should be focused on," she told the inquest.
"I agree that there is a gap in information sharing," the superintendent agreed. "What I don't believe is that that had an impact on things that day. We had to act on the information we had at the time."
Later that morning, a third 911 call led to the discovery of Ms. Culleton’s body at her cottage near Combermere. Mr. Borutski had strangled her at around 7:30 a.m., stole her car, drove to Ms. Kuyzk’s home in Wilno, shot her and then drove another 30 km to Foymount Road in Bonnechere Valley Township where he killed Ms. Warmerdam before fleeing toward Ottawa.
As well as the details and logistics of the day of the murders, the inquest has also heard about the gaps that exist in the current legal and social systems addressing Intimate Partner Violence, including a probation manager’s report which said, “there were opportunities missed that would have assisted with overall case management, including enhancing victim and public safety, rehabilitation through intervention and holding the offender accountable."
Mr. Borutski was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 with no chance of parole for 75 years. However, consecutive twenty-five-year parole sentences have been recently ruled unconstitutional under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Johanna Zomers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader