Murder-suicide of Sask. teacher by estranged husband was 'preventable': advocates

·3 min read
Charlene Graham, 34, was killed by her estranged husband despite calls to local RCMP about her safety.  (Charlene Graham/Facebook - image credit)
Charlene Graham, 34, was killed by her estranged husband despite calls to local RCMP about her safety. (Charlene Graham/Facebook - image credit)

Warning: This story contains disturbing details

Charlene Graham, 34, was shot and killed by her estranged husband earlier this week in what police are calling a homicide-suicide.

She was one of many Saskatchewan women who are disproportionately victims of domestic violence.

Advocates say her death was preventable.

Graham was found dead outside of a camper-trailer in a Meadow Lake, Sask. campground Monday afternoon. She and her mother had called RCMP four days earlier to ask about a restraining order against her estranged husband, but was too scared to file a formal complaint, her mother said.

Graham's family said she had separated from her husband a month before she was killed.

Natalya Mason, the education and outreach co-ordinator for Saskatoon Sexual Health Centre, said Graham's death wasn't a unique circumstance and work can be done to prevent gender-based violence like it.

"I think we have a very closed-door society.… We frown upon people airing what we would call their dirty laundry," Mason said.

"I think it's also super important that we're able to be open about the fact that these things do happen in our communities, because being able to acknowledge it is the first step in addressing it."

Submitted by Natalya Mason
Submitted by Natalya Mason

Gender-based violence in the nation

This kind of violence is a bigger problem in Saskatchewan than any other province.

According to a Statistics Canada report on police-reported family violence in 2019, Saskatchewan had the highest rates of family violence among the provinces, especially against women and in rural areas.

Across Canada, about two in three victims of family violence — spouses, parents, children and extended family — were women. The rate of physical assault was 1.7 times higher for women and girls than men and boys. The rate of sexual offences was 5.5 times higher.

A report published by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability at the University of Guelph showed that 160 women and girls were violently killed last year in Canada. That's an average of one woman or girl every 2.5 days.

Although fewer women than men die violently overall on average, the report concluded women were more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men, who were more likely to be killed by friends or acquaintances.

Society responsible for tragic outcomes

Advocates say the roots of gender-based family violence are in sexism and misogyny rampant in society.

"We are collectively … as a society, responsible for these kinds of outcomes, especially when we're looking at something like gender-based violence where the patterns are so clear," Mason said.

"We build the foundation for these kinds of circumstances to happen. And so, as individuals we all have a responsibility to call out sexism when we hear it, call out misogyny when we hear it."

Janelle Wallace
Janelle Wallace

Jessica Fisher, the gender-based violence education coordinator with OUTSaskatoon, said she was disappointed that Graham tried to reach out for help and wasn't able to find it.

Fisher said that violence against women, transgender people and two-spirit folks occurs because people normalize the processes that lead to violence.

"It all comes down to our norms and how we're socialized," Fisher said.

"It's going to take a lot of looking at our beliefs … and really looking at our behaviours, and our policies, and our practices, and our government and the laws that they uphold [and who they value]."

LISTEN | Natalya Mason and Jessica Fisher spoke with host Leisha Grebinski on Saskatoon Morning

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