Katherine Kulbak recalls leaving her abusive husband almost three decades ago.
"In 1993, I ran for my life with my baby girl in my arms, leaving my home and all my belongings behind," she said.
"I had enough. I spent so much time suffering in silence at the hands of this man. Choked up against the wall while holding my baby. Punched while I was nursing her."
But Kulbak, 54, isn't just a survivor of abuse. She's also a Peel Regional Police detective constable who's one of the 48 staff members on a new intimate partner violence (IPV) unit.
The unit is not located in a police station. Instead, the team will be working out of the Safe Centre of Peel, a location in Brampton where 19 non-profit community organizations join forces under one roof to offer support to "families affected by abuse and violence," according to its website.
Peel police launched the unit this week in response to a number of high-profile homicides and murder-suicides — including the killings of Sharanjeet Kaur and Darian Hailey Henderson-Bellman. Figures from Statistics Canada indicate intimate-partner violence accounts for 28 per cent of all police-reported violent crime in this country.
Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said the system had failed these women and made preventing intimate partner violence a critical priority. In 2019, 13 of 31 murders in the region were domestic incidents and police responded to just under 20,000 incidents of family and intimate-partner violence.
The new IPV unit is based on the Family Justice Centre model, where multiple agencies offer services for survivors of family violence in the same location. Officers wear plain clothes and information is not shared with police without the client's consent.
"The officers they see don't look like me," said Peel police Deputy Chief Nick Milinovich.
Milinovich added staff in the unit are from diverse backgrounds and speak multiple languages, and some, such as, Kulbak, have experienced intimate-partner violence.
"Those perspectives and that lived experience really translates into advocacy and passion in making a difference in those people's lives."
Nneka MacGregor, the co-founder and executive director of the Women's Centre for Social Justice in North York, also known as WomenatthecentrE, says from a victim's perspective speaking to someone who's experienced intimate-partner violence can make a big difference.
"The ability to speak to another survivor in this capacity is transformational. It is transformative," she said.
"It impacts. It shapes. It shifts the level of confidence in the survivor that you're speaking to someone who understands and isn't going to judge you," MacGregor said.
She added this unit is more welcoming to Peel's diverse population.
"At a time when there is a lot of call around to defunding police and finding better ways to support survivors, this is a really positive step."
Julie Young, a sociology professor with Brescia University College at Western University who has studied intimate-partner violence, is working on a national action plan to deal with the issue that she hopes will be released in the next few months.
She says this isn't the first time the family justice centre model has been tried in Canada. Police services in Waterloo, Ont. and in British Columbia have implemented them, but Peel is the largest so far in Canada to do so.
Young says not only is it more efficient to have all services under one roof, she's hopeful this more integrated approach, which lessens the role of uniformed police, will help save the lives of women and girls by getting more of them to come forward.
"Some of the reports from survivors include a fear of speaking to police, a fear of losing their children and a fear of not being understood. So there are many barriers to reporting."
And she says this approach may be more culturally appropriate and welcoming for victims who are Black, Indigeneous or other persons of colour.
"This move to collaborate services under one roof away from the police with a less fearful interaction with the police might also be a movement to an anti-oppression framework that also may have an emancipatory or empowering framework for survivors and their families."