Treatment for men who commit intimate partner violence doesn't kick in early enough, while some of the programs that do exist for convicted offenders are sorely underfunded and understaffed, says an expert testifying at a triple-homicide coroner's inquest.
"There is no way that we should have a response to domestic violence perpetration that relies on being arrested," said Katreena Scott, a clinical psychologist and director at the Centre for Research and Education About Violence Against Women and Children.
Scott was speaking Friday during the tenth day of an ongoing inquest into the murders of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam.
On Sept. 22, 2015, a man with a known history of intimate partner violence murdered all three women in and around Renfrew County, after repeatedly breaching the conditions of his probation without reprimand.
Inquest jurors, who are hearing from experts and first-hand witnesses, are being tasked with recommending changes to policies and protocols to better protect and support survivors of intimate partner violence in rural communities in the future.
At the core of Scott's many recommendations was a simple message: start intervention efforts early.
"Where somebody behaves in a way that is abusive, that's demeaning or coercive or humiliating or intimidating or threatening or manipulative or violent ... start there because that's a point at which I think we can't let it be a private issue anymore," she said.
Few programs exist to do that, which is why a handful of women's shelters across Canada, including one in Renfrew County, have said "screw this" and launched their own programming, Scott said.
She cited examples including Caring Dads counselling sessions, which 145 men have completed over the past decade, and a crisis line.
"It's a good thing for Renfrew because most communities have absolutely nothing," Scott said.
Staff paying for own training
Scott then criticized one of the existing programs for treating domestic violence abusers after conviction, the 12-week Partner Assault Response (PAR) program.
PAR is so underfunded that staff who conduct its group sessions — which sometimes number more than 20 men — are spending their own money to improve their training, Scott said.
"They are dedicated advocates often who have been doing this work for a long time, who don't get paid very well, who could be making a lot more money doing something else, who are doing difficult work, who are doing it mostly in the evenings, who are doing it with a bunch of guys who often don't want to be there," she said.
"I don't know what we can expect from a program that has that level of funding."
Scott said PAR doesn't allow for much one-on-one counselling and she would prefer there were more sessions — it was reduced from 16 to 12 in recent years, the inquest previously heard.
"[Twenty] and 22 men in a group, that's not a therapeutic program. I don't know what that is. It might be a class," she said of PAR. "But we're not actually about education. We're about change."
PAR needs to have the right information about its participants, including the risk assessments police agencies conduct regarding an abuser's potential to re-offend, Scott added.
"The police are actually supposed to send the risk assessment to the PAR program. That doesn't happen across most of Ontario," she said.
Earlier in the inquest, an OPP officer cited what she saw as a flaw on PAR's part.
Killaloe OPP Det. Const. Stacey Solman said PAR has no Ontario database of participants. That means she has had to call dozens of PAR service providers in the province when trying to track whether an offender failed to attend sessions.
Basil Borutski, the man convicted in the murders of Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam, was previously convicted, jailed and released on probation both for threatening Warmerdam's son and brutally beating Kuzyk.
Upon each release, he was court-ordered to attend PAR but never did, offering a series of excuses documented in a review conducted by Ontario's probation and parole service after the murders. He wasn't charged with breaching the conditions of his probation, either.
"You want the justice system to follow up the way the justice system is supposed to, which is to breach him," Scott said.
A probation representative is expected to testify at the inquest next week.
Deborah Kasdorff, a former manager of Ontario's Victim/Witness Assistance program, which guides victims through the court process, testified earlier in the inquest that she doesn't think Borutski would have been a good candidate for PAR anyway given his pattern of deflecting blame onto his victims.
He might have done more harm than good to other session participants, she added.
Scott said there's one benefit to reluctant participants going to PAR.
"It's a place where somebody is watching him for at least 12 weeks," she said.
Borutski, who is currently in prison, was told about the coroner's inquest and "indicated he did not want any involvement," a spokesperson for the office of the chief coroner said via email.
The inquest continues next week, with the jury potentially set to begin deliberating on recommendations by the end of Wednesday.