Maintaining contact with abuse victims and corroborating information coming from a perpetrator are just two of the things probation officers typically do when monitoring a high-risk offender with a history of intimate partner violence, according to expert testimony heard Tuesday during an ongoing coroner's inquest.
"Any elevated risk would prompt the probation officer to engage in more immediate and direct contact with victims," testified James Pearson, a probation and parole quality assurance manager for eastern Ontario who previously worked for 11 years as a probation officer in Ottawa and neighbouring Lanark County.
Pearson's testimony came on the 12th day of the inquest examining the killings of three women.
On Sept. 22, 2015, a man with a known history of gender-based violence murdered Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam in and around Renfrew County, after repeatedly breaching the conditions of his probation without reprimand.
Basil Borutski was convicted of three counts of murder in a jury trial and is in prison.
Inquest jurors, who are hearing from experts and first-hand witnesses in the case, are being tasked with recommending changes to policies and protocols to better protect and support survivors of intimate partner violence in rural communities.
Earlier in the inquest, an internal probation service review written just over a month after the murders was entered into the record. It found that Borutski's probation officers missed opportunities to more closely monitor him before he went on his killing rampage.
The review also found that Warmerdam was contacted several months before the murders, but noted no contact after that. She was contacted the same month Borutski was reassessed as a high risk to reoffend, up from previous assessments that pegged him as low and medium risk.
In the summer of 2015, he went on to stalk Culleton at her cottage just outside the county border.
Contact between probation officers and Kuzyk ended in December 2014. She reported no safety concerns at that time, according to the report.
The inquest has also heard she was an intensely private person who wanted to put her ordeal behind her. Borutski's brutal beating of her led to his second conviction and jail term for intimate partner violence.
While Borutski's second probation supervisor initially made contact with the victims, "there was no followup at any time to gauge how they were managing" — even after Borutski reported spotting one of his victims in public, the report said.
"There were opportunities missed that would have assisted with the overall case management, including enhancing victim and public safety," according to the internal probation review.
It went on to recommend training on "the crucial importance of obtaining detailed offender background information through personal collateral contacts."
At the same time, Pearson offered a window into the limitations of what probation officers can disclose to victims.
The inquest has heard from a victims services worker that Warmerdam struggled to get information from the probation service. She was concerned about where Borutski would live after his release.
Pearson said information released about convicts is run through a "battery" of checks before it's decided what to share.
He said the probation service can't tell victims an offender's exact address but that they provide "a general geographic area of release."
'Numerous' missed opportunities
Pearson's Tuesday testimony mostly stayed away from specifics of the Renfrew County triple homicide case.
More direct questions about that are expected on Wednesday morning when Pearson resumes his testimony and is cross-examined by Nathalie Warmerdam's daughter and a lawyer for End Violence Against Women Renfrew County, a local coalition.
Rather, Pearson walked the inquest jury through what he referred to as "Probation 101," including the steps taken with domestic violence offenders.
Upon release, offenders are walked through the conditions of their probation and asked to sign a form indicating their acknowledgement of the conditions.
It's not a legally binding document but its conditions are enforceable, Pearson said. The inquest has heard Borutski did not sign this document.
His release conditions required him to attend the partner assault response (PAR) program for abusers (he never did, instead offering probation officers excuse after excuse) and was banned from possessing weapons (he shot two of his fatal victims).
"Probation officers would certainly take [refusal to sign] into account," Pearson said.
"It would likely be an indication of their possible lack of willingness to cooperate, their minimization of the severity of the situation or their denial of wrongdoing."
If offenders refuse to attend PAR, "part of our process with them is to make efforts to motivate them to want to attend," Pearson added.
The internal review found that Borutski's initial probation officer in Renfrew County "missed numerous opportunities to engage the client in motivational and counselling discussions."
Taking cues from 'collaterals'
A critical part of monitoring any offender is the collection of information from "collateral" sources — basically, anybody but the offender, including crown attorneys, victims and family members, Pearson said.
New information collected from collaterals can inform future risk assessments, he said.
"In some cases, [offenders] are telling you the honest truth. But we can't depend on offenders to provide us with an accurate picture all the time of exactly what it is they're supposed to be doing or not."
The internal review found that, in retrospect, Borutski appeared to struggle with substance abuse and had "deeply entrenched criminal orientation and anti-social qualities."
While one of the probation officers did well to consult Borutski's family doctor about his substance abuse and mental health problems, "to look very deep, there are subtle indications of deviance that may have been made more clear with additional collateral information from personal sources and police," the review said.
Closing arguments in the inquest are scheduled to take place on Friday. The inquest jury will then retire to discuss what recommendations they'd like to make.