Ottawa police reviewing error after 'femicide' edited out of bulletin

An Ottawa police social media edit removed the word 'femicide' from a post, and the force apologized for the error. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
An Ottawa police social media edit removed the word 'femicide' from a post, and the force apologized for the error. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

Ottawa police say they are reviewing exactly what happened when a social media post about the murders of women this year was edited to remove the word "femicide."

On Sept. 16, Ottawa police posted a bulletin about five recent homicides of women and how they shared similarities.

"The women were all victims of femicide," the bulletin read. "In each case, men are facing charges."

Then minutes later, the post was once again published on the force's social media feeds, but this time, the word "femicide" — a term used when a woman is killed in part because of her gender — was removed from the statement.

To date, five women and one girl have allegedly been killed by men in this city in 2022. The cases include allegations of intimate partner violence, stalking and obsession. Charges have been laid in four of the cases.

"The women were all victims," the edited sentence read.

CBC News asked police why there appeared to have been two versions of the post edited to the point of publishing, then seemingly swapped interchangeably.

'We apologize for the error'

"Last Friday, a post raising public awareness on violence against women and femicides was altered after final approval," the force said in a statement this week.

"We are discussing internally how the approval process for social posts was not followed and how this version was posted. Once this error was observed, the post was removed and re-posted with the language of femicide.

"We apologize for the error."

The edit came during an ongoing conversation about how best to term fatal incidents of violence against women without muddying the boundaries of what exactly advocates, police and the law hope to measure.

The right language matters, advocate says

Kirsten Mercer is a lawyer who represented the family of slain Anastasia Kuzyk during the coroner's inquest into the Wilno femicides.

Seven years to the week of the 2015 triple femicides, Mercer is once again advocating for the right terms in the right situations.

"The reason that using that language when it's appropriate matters is because it brings us into the realm of understanding that a killing, which is obviously awful in and of itself, has an additional element to it. It introduces an aspect that is in the realm of a hate crime," Mercer said.

"We understand that there are a number of different definitions, but we understand femicide to mean the killing of a woman or girl because she is a woman or girl. And so the reason it's important and the reason it was the focus of some attention at the inquest is because if we don't properly name the problem. We are limiting our ability to address it."

Despite the social media edit, Ottawa police said this week the force "has begun using the term femicide to generally describe the murder of women at the hands of a male perpetrator," and pointed to interim Chief Steve Bell's use of the term in July.

"The use of this term by our service is meant to bring a new dimension to the conversation about and advocacy to eliminate violence against women in our community," the force said.

Police, too, said that they want to advocate for an "official definition."

"It is our goal to work with the local [violence against women] advocacy community to build a commonly accepted definition, to adopt this term officially, and to advocate for its use in law and the Criminal Code."