Strangulation often signals domestic violence will turn deadly. Prosecutors in Montreal stepping up enforcement

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Strangulation often signals domestic violence will turn deadly. Prosecutors in Montreal stepping up enforcement
Quebec's Crown prosecutor's office and police are joining forces to help authorities do a better job of gathering evidence on intimate partner strangulation to ensure that perpetrators can be charged. This comes as studies warn that a person who is assaulted in that way by their partner is at a far greater risk of being killed by them in the future. Global’s Felicia Parrillo reports – May 7, 2024

Warning: This story contains sensitive content that may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.

Quebec’s prosecutor’s office (DPCP) and Montreal police (SPVM) say they are joining forces to focus on strangulation in domestic violence due to alarming findings that show victims of such assault are at significantly higher risk of being killed by their partner.

A pilot project was announced on Tuesday that will roll out within the next 18 months in Montreal’s east end and is designed to improve police response by training officers and criminal investigation units to better identify cases that involve strangulation.

The DPCP says the project will help authorities do a more targeted job of gathering evidence on a strangulation to ensure that perpetrators can be charged.

Domestic violence prosecutor Maya Ducasse-Hathi told Global News the DPCP’s office authorized 551 cases involving intimate partner strangulation in 2023 in Montreal, which averages out to about 10 a week, out of 6,520 reported cases of domestic violence that year.

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In an interview with Global, both Ducasse-Hathi and the SPVM’s specialized domestic violence section Commandant, Anouk St-Onge, said those numbers drastically underrepresent the whole picture, as all intimate partner violence widely goes underreported.

“We also believe strangulations are minimized,” St-Onge said.

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Studies show that strangulation is a strong predictor of homicide, something that is known to authorities, Ducasse-Hathi added.

“It has a specific kind of manner to it that implies control, a domination on the part of the aggressor that shows the victim that their life is literally in their hands. It’s a serious crime, so when victims report strangulation, we need to intervene.”

The director of Quebec’s Shield of Athena organization for victims of family violence, Melpa Kamateros, told Global that if police start to better tabulate data like attempted strangulations, authorities might have a more co-ordinated approach and followup, and better predict another violent event and its severity.

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‘750% more likely to be killed by the same offender’

According to a 2024 release from the Institute on Strangulation Prevention published by Ottawa police, a person who has suffered a non-fatal strangulation incident with their intimate partner is 750 per cent more likely to be killed by the same offender.

“Strangulation has been identified as one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence and sexual violence; unconsciousness may occur within seconds and death within minutes,” according to the institute.

A release detailing the DPCP and SPVM’s initiative says it will also ensure that partner organizations, like the Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVAC), will offer victims more support and give them information about the different symptoms they might experience in the hours and days after the assault.

Montreal police say the project is based on similar initiatives in the U.S., and if it shows success, the force will deploy it across the city and share its training and findings with other police forces.

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Intimate partner violence an ‘epidemic,’ say experts

St-Onge told Global she wants the media attention on the issue to reach victims who have been strangled by a partner but haven’t sought help, to signal to them that they are in danger.

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“The most dangerous domestic violence offenders strangle their victims. The most violent rapists strangle their victims. We used to think all abusers were equal. They are not,” said Gael Strack, co-founder of the Institute on Strangulation Prevention.

According to Strack, “research has now made clear that when a man puts his hands around a woman’s neck, authorities should know that she is at the edge of homicide.”

In Canada, choking, suffocation and strangulation were introduced to the Criminal Code in 2019 following the adoption of Bill C-75.

In Quebec, approximately 40 per cent of women aged 18 and over who have been in an intimate relationship have experienced at least one act of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to findings published in 2023 by the province. This number is 26 per cent for men.

The data shows that women are more likely to experience violence on a repeated basis and severe acts of violence, or behaviours related to coercive control, which is part of the three forms of intimate partner violence: psychological, physical and sexual.

According to Statistics Canada, between 2009 and 2022, 18 per cent of solved homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner.

Forty-six per cent of solved homicides of women and girls were perpetrated by an intimate partner, compared with just six per cent of solved homicides of men and boys.

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If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

Are you or someone you know experiencing abuse? Visit the Department of Justice’s Victim Services Directory for a list of support services in your area. Women, trans and non-binary people can find an additional list of resources online.

In Quebec, you can contact SOS Violence conjugale at 1-800 363-9010 by phone. You can also text 1-438-601-1211.

To reach Shield of Athena’s Montreal office, call 514-274-8117 or 1-877-274-8117.



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