Did the law fail three murdered women?

Click to play video: 'JoAnne Brooks talks about the lack of attention to rural violence'
JoAnne Brooks talks about the lack of attention to rural violence
WATCH: JoAnne Brooks, director of the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, talks about the lack of attention to rural violence – Feb 19, 2016

Three women were killed in Wilno, Ont., outside Ottawa, on Sept. 22, 2015.

Two were shot and one was strangled, all allegedly by the same man.

Basil Borutski, 57, is charged with killing all three women — two of whom used to date him. He’ll soon face a preliminary inquiry on the charges in a Pembroke court. None of the murder allegations against Borutski have yet been proven in court.

But this isn’t the first time Borutski was in trouble with the law. Or the first time he has been accused of harming women. Or even the first time he was accused of harming two of these particular women.

According to court documents obtained by Global News, he was accused of assaulting Nathalie Warmerdam, one of the victims, in 2012. He was also convicted of assaulting another victim, Anastasia Kuzyk, in 2013. He was released from jail in December 2014, and placed on two years’ probation.

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In a divorce filing in 2011, Borutski’s ex-wife alleged “a steady regimen of domestic violence.”

According to the judge, “She states that he stalked her, constantly pestered her to recant, insisted that it did not happen, told her that no one would believe her in court having regard to the acquittal in Kitchener, that he would take the girls from her and she would never see them again.”

Two witnesses corroborated his ex-wife’s claims.

So why was Basil Borutski, a man with a long history of violence, out of jail and living near his alleged victims?

It’s a question many people are asking.

When Borutski was released on probation, he was asked to sign a document that said he was to have no communication with to and stay away from Kuzyk. He refused to sign it, and was let out anyway.

One of Borutski’s former girlfriends, who was killed on Sept. 22, even carried a tracking and alarm device to alert police in case something went wrong, according to a Postmedia report. Borutski himself had no such device.

A woman is killed by her partner every five days in Canada on average, according to Statistics Canada. And cases like Borutski’s hardly encourage women to bring charges forward or trust the legal system to protect them, says John Yakabuski, MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, where the murders took place.

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He feels that more could have been done to better protect the three women after Borutski was released. In particular, he thinks Borutski’s refusal to sign the probation order should have sent up some red flags, along with his history of charges and convictions.

He has put forward a private members’ bill that would compel parolees to sign parole orders before being released, as well as subject them to electronic monitoring of their location in cases of sexual or domestic violence where the inmate could present a danger to the victim.

READ MORE: 16×9 – Domestic violence: when the law isn’t enough

Senator Bob Runciman isn’t sure why there wasn’t more debate after the murders, particularly given what he calls “a series of issues” surrounding the way the case was dealt with by Victim Services and the police.

“The government is responsible for the system and they have to answer questions about it and they have to respond to the breakdowns in the system. That has yet to happen,” he said.

“I contrast that with my time as Corrections Minister of Ontario when an inmate died in the system and I was the focus of attacks for several weeks, being held responsible for that death and decisions made by individuals in the system, calls for my resignation. I contrast that with what happened here, with the murders of three women and very little focus and attention.”

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READ MORE: Rural, small-town women nearly twice as likely to be assaulted by their partners

According to debate records from the Ontario legislature, Borutski’s case has been raised five times — four times as a question to the government, and once as Yakabuski brought forward his private member’s bill.

Global News requested an interview with the Attorney General, but the request was refused on the grounds that the case was before the courts.

When asked what the Ontario government has done to protect rural women since the Wilno tragedies, Helena Jaczek, the Minister of Community and Social Services, sent an emailed statement. It pointed to the government’s Rural Realities Fund, which promises $1 million over two years to help agencies and shelters in rural, remote and northern areas to deliver support “to women and their children who have experienced violence.”

Names engraved on a snow-covered monument in Petawawa, Ontario. The memorial honours women killed by their partners in Renfrew County. Leslie Young / Global News

For reference, the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County has an annual budget of about $270,000 (more than half of what the government is offering each year under this program), has three employees and covers an area of more than 7,400 square kilometres, according to the organization’s director, JoAnne Brooks.

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The county’s only shelter, the Bernadette McCann House for Women, has a budget of $1.4 million this year, according to executive director Leigh Sweeney. “Unfortunately, it’s not a lot of money, but it is money nonetheless,” she says of the government’s fund. She says local agencies will have to be creative to come up with project proposals that can use the funds, particularly since the funding will end after two years.

Although Brooks says this money is a start, “The large issues of lack of public transportation, under-employment [and] isolation are systemic issues that cannot be addressed with $500,000 for the whole province of Ontario.”

The province also pledges to work to develop an approach to deal with crisis situations of violence against women, though it did not provide specifics.

Lack of debate

Since Borutski was arrested, there have been other murders. A list compiled by activist group NL Feminists and Allies and reported by the Fifth Estate shows 15 women suspected to have been killed by their partners between Sept. 23 and Dec.31, 2015. Since Global News began researching this story just two weeks ago, one woman was killed and one woman was shot by former partners, just in Eastern Ontario alone. The woman who survived, Sarah Cameron, was still recovering in hospital as of Feb. 16, according to a media report.

Brooks doesn’t understand why there isn’t more public outcry over murdered women.

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“Why isn’t our country in an uproar about this?” she asks.

“Is it because women are blamed, women are judged? If it were 15 soldiers, in our area where we have a large military base, there would be continuing investigations and commemoration ceremonies. Is it because women’s lives are expendable?”

There are 24 names engraved on a memorial in Petawawa, dedicated to women in Renfrew County who have been murdered by their partners since the 1950s. Adding Anastasia Kuzyk, Carol Culleton, and Nathalie Warmerdam to the monument was hard, said Brooks. “It’s bad. It’s very sad. September was tough for many people, for all of us.”

In an upcoming story, Global News will look at some of the strategies being tried to help make rural women safer. We’ll follow and report on the criminal proceedings against Boris Borutski.

With files from James Armstrong and the Canadian Press.

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