Advocates call for urgent action after landmark inquiry into intimate partner violence

The five people who issued 86 recommendations to prevent future intimate partner murders after a three-week landmark inquest into the murders of three women in rural eastern Ontario are “screaming” for change.

“They are screaming on behalf of the families, who we acknowledge, they are screaming on behalf of the women whose voices are lost or silenced by the fear and the violence they live with,” said Kirsten Mercer, who represented End Violence Against Women Renfrew County at the inquiry. “They are screaming on behalf of all of us in this province, in this country and in the world when they say intimate partner violence is an epidemic.”

The jury spent three weeks hearing from experts, victims and advocates about what could have prevented one man from murdering former partners Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam and a woman who rejected him, Carol Culleton, in Renfrew County seven years ago.

The horrifying killing spree by Basil Borutski over a single day in September 2015 took place despite him being labeled a high risk while on probation after being convicted of assaulting both Kuzyk and Warmerdam and his repeated failure to attend partner assault response programs without consequences, the inquest heard. I have used a shotgun to commit two of the murders.

On Tuesday, the jury issued detailed recommendations, including ensuring stable funding for services both for survivors of intimate partner violence and for perpetrators, particularly in rural areas where there is little or no public transit, spotty internet access and fewer services.

After the recommendations were issued, Valerie Warmerdam, Nathalie Warmerdam’s daughter, said she did not participate in the inquiry to get closure but to find solutions.

“These recommendations are a good start. If they are actioned. It’s a big if,” she said.

As she prepared for the inquiry she looked up past inquiry recommendations after learning many have not been implemented, she said. She came across one from 24 years ago — to search for and seize guns and firearms licenses from a banned perpetrator from possessing a firearm. That should have been an easy fix, she said, but instead there are still several recommendations at this inquiry aimed at ensuring perpetrators of intimate partner violence do not have access to firearms and firearms licences.

Among them are requiring all police services to immediately inform the Chief Firearms Officer of intimate partner violence-related charges after they are laid and provide any relevant records and publicizing the existence of a support line to report concerns about intimate partner violence and access to firearms and staffing it 24/7.

“I am furious and I want change,” Warmerdam said. She commended the inquiry for their focus on implementation, including calling for a provincial committee to be struck to ensure the recommendations are considered and to provide accountability on progress, and for an independent Intimate Partner Violence Commission.

“If somebody like Valerie can take that anger, that furor, and channel that into a constructive process then I dare our politicians to tell her to keep waiting,” Mercer said. “We are not going to wait forever anymore.”

“There is much, much work to be done,” said general counsel for the Chief Coroner’s office Prabhu Rajan. “We need a true commitment from those who have responsibility.”

Some of the recommendations made are broad: addressing housing insecurity, availability of mental health and substance use services, and expanding cell service and high-speed internet in rural and remote areas.

The jury also proposed creating an emergency fund called the “She CAN fund” in honor of Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam, that would give out grants of up to $7,000 for women taking steps to seek safety, particularly in rural areas.

In a move praised by Valerie Warmerdam, the jury specifically called for services and measures aimed at perpetrators of intimate partner violence, including establishing a 24/7 hotline for men who need support to prevent perpetrating violence, and public campaigns that include men’s voices and encourage seeking help to address their own abusive behaviours.

“If we are not making a concerted effort to rehabilitate perpetrators and actually give them the tools to interact with the community in a way that is safe, and we are not trying to follow up and see if we have been successful in those changes, what are we doing?” Warmerdam said, noting that evidence shows that stints in jail can further destabilize a perpetrator and make things even more dangerous for victims.

Following reviews that criticized the response of probation services to Borutski, including repeated failures to hold him accountable for not attending a partner assault response program, the jurors recommended improved supervision and enforcement practices, and regular contact with survivors, including in safety planning.

The jury also issued recommendations around survivor safety, including establishing clear guidelines for flagging perpetrators and potential victims in police databases, and allowed immediate access to the identities and contact information of potential targets, and how to notify those targets.

They suggested exploring electronic monitoring where a perpetrator is not allowed to be in the vicinity of a survivor; setting up a fund that would allow survivors in high-risk situations to have a “safe room”; and a registry for repeat offenders like the sex offender registry.

They also called for studying approaches to share information about a perpetrator’s history of intimate partner violence with new partners.

Other recommendations targeted the justice system, including better information sharing and access to records and providing regular training.

They suggested increased free and independent legal support for survivors, studying the feasibility of sharing findings from civil and family courts with criminal courts, and conducting a review of the mandatory charging practice in Ontario.

They also recommended changes to the Criminal Code to include the term femicide to specify the murder of women, making “coercive control” a criminal offense and reviewing the elements of the offense of criminal harassment.

The recommendations, which are non-binding, will be sent to the agencies who would be responsible for implementing them. Those agencies will issue responses, and the jurors recommended reconvening for a progress update in a year.

The government “will take the time to review and properly consider these important recommendations,” said a spokesperson for Solicitor General Michael Kerzner in a statement.

“Our thoughts continue to be with the victims’ families and friends, and all those who were impacted by this tragedy. Every woman has the right to live in safety and with dignity, free from intimidation and the threat of violence.”

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