Quebec man charged in partner's death as domestic violence advocate sounds alarm

·4 min read

LA MALBAIE, Que. — The case of a 46-year-old Quebec man who was charged with murder on Tuesday in connection with his partner's death is raising concerns once again about domestic violence in the province.

Eric Levasseur was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of his partner, Carolyne Labonte, who died in Quebec's Charlevoix region last month.

Provincial police say the 40-year-old woman was found dead on March 18 at her home in Notre-Dame-des-Monts, 130 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.

"Expertise at the scene, combined with the result of the autopsy and the result of the ballistics analysis, led to the conclusion that Carolyne Labonte was the victim of a homicide," provincial police said in a news release.

Crown prosecutor Jimmy Simard confirmed Levasseur appeared in court in La Malbaie, Que., Tuesday morning via videoconference. The case returns to court May 5.

Simard said the suspect was arrested at a Montreal prison, where he was being detained on a weapons charge stemming from the same police investigation. A lawyer representing Levasseur declined to comment.

Provincial police spokeswoman Beatrice Dorsainville confirmed Labonte and Levasseur were a couple who lived at the same address.

Victims' advocates as well as Quebec's deputy premier have raised the alarm about a spate of killings this year linked to domestic violence. Labonte is at least the ninth woman to be killed in an alleged case of domestic violence in the province since the beginning of 2021.

Diane Neron, the director of a women's shelter in La Malbaie, near where the victim lived, said she's feeling "sadness and indignation" over Labonte's death and the deaths of the other women. Like many advocates, she believes the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened a pre-existing problem.

"Domestic violence is always there, but the pandemic exacerbated the characteristics associated with violence, such as isolation," she said in a phone interview Tuesday. Neron said victims who live in smaller communities, such as the one where Labonte lived, may also be reluctant to come forward out of fear of being recognized in a place where everyone knows each other.

She said her shelter, La Maison La Montee, is available 24 hours a day for women who need help and offers a wide array of services. But while help for victims is available, she said she believes the government still needs to provide more funding for outreach and education programs that could help prevent future tragedies.

"This is a societal problem," she said.

Quebec’s highest court weighed in on the issue of domestic violence this month, as it partially overturned the sentence of a man who had previously pleaded guilty to breaking and entering his girlfriend’s apartment and violently assaulting her in 2017.

The Court of Appeal chose to double his one-year sentence, partly on the basis that the original judge had not adequately weighed the importance of handing down sentences that reflect the seriousness of domestic violence.

“The court has emphasized on several occasions the added weight that must be given to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence in the context of domestic violence,” the three-judge panel said in an April 1 decision written by Justice Stephen W. Hamilton.

“Indeed, sentencing in these matters pursues two main imperatives: to denounce the unacceptable and criminal character of domestic violence and to enhance the confidence of the victims and the public in the administration of justice.”

The court also concluded the trial judge had placed too much emphasis on the accused’s rehabilitation and not enough on the victim’s injuries, including a broken nose, or the fact that the accused had a long criminal record and was violating a previous agreement not to drink alcohol.

The court extended the man’s sentence to 24 months less a day from 12 months and extended probation to three years from two. But because he had already been released almost 18 months earlier, the judges chose to stay the extra months of the sentence, meaning he was not returned to jail but was subjected to the extra year of probation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2021.

— By Morgan Lowrie in Montreal

The Canadian Press