An inquest jury has been given 72 proposed recommendations aimed at preventing intimate partner violence deaths, including creating an independent commission and urging the federal government to add femicide to the Criminal Code.
The inquest, which wrapped up its third week on Friday, has been tasked with preventing deaths due to intimate partner violence in a rural context.
Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were killed in Renfrew County on the morning of Sept. 22, 2015, by Basil Borutski, who had been previously convicted of domestic violence offences against Warmerdam and Kuzyk and was stalking Culleton.
The proposed recommendation were made by the “parties with standing” at the inquest, which included Warmerdam’s daughter, Valerie, and End Violence Against Women Renfrew County, a coalition of groups advocating for systemic change.
“We were up until 3 a.m. We need some sleep. But there is still work for you to do,” Valerie Warmerdam told the jury.
Over the past three weeks in Pembroke, the jury has heard from dozens of witnesses ranging from front-line workers who were present on the day of the murders to academics studying violence against women.
The proposed recommendations included five around oversight and accountability, such as creating an independent commission to ensure government and other organizations act in an accountable and transparent way around issues about violence against women.
“I want you to give all of us the tools to make sure that the work that all of us and that all of you have done has an impact,” Kirsten Mercer, a lawyer for End Violence Against Women, told the jurors.
Among other recommendations:
• Ensure consistent and adequate funding for support services for victims of violence, including an emergency fund for women facing barriers to improving their safety. This would include easy, low-barrier access to small grants of up to $7,000 to cover whatever a woman thinks is necessary for safety.
“We don’t want to tell women what safety needs to look like,” Mercer said. “But we want to take away barriers they are encountering in making the choices that will make them and their children safer.”
Services should also receive stable core funding. The recommendations noted that per capita funding means it is more expensive to provide services in remote and rural areas because of the distances involved.
• Expand education programs, including violence prevention, understanding risk factors and identifying signs of coercive control. These should be available from elementary school to the post-secondary system, Mercer said.
“We want to continually take every opportunity to try to root out the sexism and misogyny that underlie intimate partner violence,” she said. “We want to challenge those ideas from the very start with our children.”
The proposals also addressed training for professionals and those working in the justice system. This should include refresher courses and trauma-informed methods, which recognize that a victim may have reasons for recanting or refusing to co-operate.
• Consider measures to support perpetrators, including making services available for men before they are charged or convicted.
Valerie Warmerdam asked jurors to consider addressing some of the factors known to affect the escalation of violence, such as financial instability, housing insecurity and substance use.
“We have heard about how, when someone is already on the track of domestic violence, that additional factors such as depression, anxiety and suicidality can be destabilizing and can make them more likely to act on their existing patterns in more dangerous ways,” she said.
• Conduct a study of interpersonal violence disclosure protocols. Known as “Clare’s Law,” legislation has already been introduced in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador allowing women who have concerns about new partners to request background information from police. Each jurisdiction has a different version of that legislation.
• Explore using electronic monitoring bracelets to notify police and the victim when an offender gets too close. It’s not a panacea and there are limitations in rural areas, noted Prabhu Rajan, counsel to the coroner’s office. “I just think it needs to be studied a bit more.”
• Conduct a review of mandatory charging in Ontario. Police are required to lay charges in cases where they have reasonable and probable grounds to believe a domestic assault has occurred. But the inquest heard that women defending themselves are sometimes charged and some victims don’t want charges to be laid because it places them in more danger.
• Inform the Chief Firearms Officer as soon as possible when an offender on probation with weapons conditions changes residence. Crowns should also ask if there are firearms in the home while they are considering a person acting as a surety during the bail process.
• Require that probation officers follow through with enforcing probation conditions, give offenders clear expectations and recognize that disregarding probation conditions is a risk factor for re-offending.
• Clarify laws and rules about privacy. The Privacy Commissioner of Ontario should develop a plain language tool so intimate partner professionals from police to lawyers can better understand how to balance the laws and rules with public safety.
• Ask the federal government to consider adding the term “femicide” to the Criminal Code and to consider amending dangerous-offender provisions in the Code to include a new classification that considers the risk factor for intimate partner violence.
The inquest heard that Crown attorneys face challenges making dangerous-offender applications for perpetrators in intimate partner violence cases. Perhaps a new classification would capture the risk attached to these perpetrators, Mercer told the jurors.
• Consider including femicide as a manner of death in Ontario. Intimate partner violence and femicide are forms of gender-based violence rooted in misogyny, the inquest heard. This would recognize the distinct manner of death experienced by women because they are women, Leslie Reaume, the inquest’s presiding officer, told the jurors.
• Parties with standing at the inquest reconvene in a year to discuss progress.
“We just want to make sure that things are happening,” Rajan told the jurors.
The jury is expected to table its own list of recommendations on Tuesday.