‘A piece of paper that did nothing’: Advocates say protection orders are failing women in Canada

Camille Runke, 49, was fatally gunned down outside her Winnipeg workplace in 2015, allegedly by her estranged husband.

Before that, she had phoned police 22 times to report smashed windows, slashed tires and threatening messages, according to Winnipeg police. She suspected her estranged husband, Kevin Runke, 44, was stalking and harassing her even though she had a protection order against him.

READ MORE: ‘He finally got her’ —friends of Winnipeg murder victim want change in protection order system

Winnipeg police warned Kevin to stop harassing Camille. They charged him with breaching his conditions by not reporting an address change but did not arrest him, saying there was a “lack of evidence” and no indication of violence before this.

Eight days later, Camille was found dead. Days after that, Kevin shot himself after police tried to stop his vehicle near St. Malo, Man.

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Camille’s friends and family have called for changes to the system, hoping for a better way to protect women in situations of domestic violence.

WATCH: Jennifer Noone talks about changes needed to protection order system to prevent repeated violence

“We want the laws to change,” Jennifer Noone, a friend of Camille’s in Winnipeg told Global News in 2016. “And if it’s going to take Cam’s story to do it, we’re going to do it.”

But violence against women in Canada continues to persist.

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Every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her partner or former partner, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

The Canadian Femicide Observatory, which tracks the killing of Canadian women, estimates at least 148 women and girls were killed in 2018. That’s the same figure as 2016, according to Statistics Canada data. The rate for Indigenous women was five times higher than non-Indigenous women, Statistics Canada reported

Spousal abuse is one of the most common forms of violence against women in Canada — and protection orders are meant to act as life-saving tools for victims of abuse, especially when they’re trying to leave a dangerous relationship.

But the very tool designed to help keep women safe is failing them, according to lawyer Pamela Cross.

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“Protection orders are a bit of a patchwork across the country,” she said. “They are failing women and children and are very difficult to get.

“There seems to be an inherent distrust by many in the family court system about these orders …  the standard of evidence that the judge wants to see is very high.”

Even if a protection order is granted, there is the question of enforcement.

“At the end of the day, a restraining order is a piece of paper and does not stop a knife or a bullet,” she explained.

Victims of a broken system

In 2009, 15 per cent of female victims of spousal violence reported they had obtained a type of protection order, according to Statistics Canada. This is the most recent data available.

One-third of these women said the terms of the order were breached and two-thirds reported the violation to police.

Among the women who did not report spousal violence to police, dealing with the situation in another way or feeling that the incident was a personal matter were among the most commonly stated reasons for not reporting, according to Statistics Canada. Other reasons included fear of future abuse from their spouse and a lack of confidence in the police or the criminal justice system.

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Breaching a protection order is a criminal act and is supposed to help police get offenders off the street faster, but far too often that is not what happens.

Camille and Kevin Runke. facebook

Camille and her estranged husband were married in 2013. According to friends, they seemed like a couple in love, but in the spring of 2015, Camille caught Kevin cheating, and the marriage was over. Shortly after, she started reporting incidents of stalking to the police, provincial documents show.

It became so bad she could not go to work for fear of being followed, Camille’s friend Noone told Global News.

Noone said Camille would find nails scattered on the ground around her truck and on her way to work.

“The nails on the way to work — she’d change her route, he’d do it again. She’d get dropped off at work, and he’d still continue doing it,” Noone said.

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In July 2015, Camille applied for a protection order against Kevin and told police he owned a rifle.

According to provincial documents, she also set up cameras around her home, bought a secret cellphone and told neighbours to keep watch in an attempt to gather evidence.

However, according to police, Kevin kept breaching his order. On Oct. 23, police again warned him to stop harassing Camille but did not arrest him.

WATCH: Winnipeg police say history of Kevin Runke’s actions prior to homicide did not warrant arrest 

“A report had been forwarded to the Crown to consider criminal harassment charges at that time,” Winnipeg police deputy chief Danny Smyth said during a press conference in November 2015.

“We know there was no reported history of violence or physical abuse prior to the homicide. Police were diligent in their efforts to help Camille Runke, and Kevin Runke’s actions prior to the homicide did not warrant arrest or detention.”

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Eight days later, Camille was found shot to death outside her workplace.

Selena Keeper
Selena Rose Keeper, 20. Facebook

In 2015, 20-year-old Selena Keeper applied for a protection order against her former boyfriend but was denied.

In a recording of a May 19, 2015, hearing, Keeper told Justice of the Peace Debra Motuz that she was regularly beaten during a two-year relationship with Ray William Everett, even while she was pregnant with the couple’s child.

“He would always kick me to the corners and try and kick my tummy. He would punch me. It was like an everyday routine,” Keeper said.

Keeper filed a sworn affidavit to support her testimony, but none of the allegations was proven in court. She also said she was concerned Everett had access to weapons, alleging he belonged to a street gang.

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But according to the hearing, Motuz rejected the application for a protection order, which would have prevented Everett from being in contact with Keeper.

“It’s an extraordinary remedy to be granted a protection order and it’s only to be granted when serious and urgent circumstances indicate a need for prompt action to protect the victim,” Motuz said toward the end of the 15-minute hearing.

The justice of the peace said she was not “satisfied” that Keeper required a protection order on an immediate basis.

Five months later, Keeper was beaten to death by Everett, who was later charged with second-degree murder. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2017.

WATCH: The lasting effects of domestic abuse

Click to play video: 'The lasting effects of domestic abuse'
The lasting effects of domestic abuse

After those two high-profile cases in 2015, Manitoba introduced new legislation to make it easier for courts to grant protection orders and — in what it called a first in Canada — confiscate guns from anyone named in such orders.

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Manitoba Justice statistics show that 818 orders were denied or withdrawn in 2015-16 while 565 were granted.

Three years later, the number of protection orders that were denied went down slightly. In 2018-19, 542 protection orders were denied or withdrawn while 563 were granted.

Although Manitoba has one of the highest rates of violence against women in Canada, domestic violence is still felt across the entire country.

Daphné Huard-Boudreault was found dead inside a Mont-Saint-Hilaire apartment, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Daphné Huard-Boudreault/Facebook

In March 2017, 18-year-old Daphné Huard-Boudreault called Montreal police for help, telling them she was terrified of her ex-boyfriend Anthony Pratte-Lops.

Hours later, she was found with multiple stab wounds in a basement apartment after she went to pick up her belongings at the apartment she shared with Pratte-Lops.

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On May 2, 2019, Pratte-Lops pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder.

Colleen Sillito-Kruger, a 46-year-old mother of five. Credit:

In October 2015, Colleen Sillito-Kruger, a 46-year-old mother of five who lived in Edmonton, was shot to death in her driveway by her former boyfriend, Paul Jacob. He then turned the gun on himself.

At the time, Jacob had a year-long peace bond against him, according to court documents. The bond was a result of a charge of uttering a threat to cause bodily harm.

Court documents say Jacob violated the bond and also pleaded guilty to breaching it.

After her death, former Alberta justice minister Kathleen Ganley said Sillito-Kruger’s case demonstrated the need for government to review its processes in the context of systemic violence against women.

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“It’s for reasons exactly like this where a tragedy has occurred and we should be looking to ourselves to say, ‘What could we have done better to prevent this from happening?’” Ganley said.

She said the government did not do a very good job of helping a person in need of protection.

WATCH: Advocates call domestic abuse in Alberta a crisis

Click to play video: 'Advocates call domestic abuse in Alberta a crisis'
Advocates call domestic abuse in Alberta a crisis

Protection order breaches not tracked across Canada

Protection orders differ across Canada, and in some provinces, like Saskatchewan and Alberta, they are referred to as restraining orders. Each province also has different legislation when handling domestic-violence complaints.

In Manitoba, out of the 1,105 protection orders requested in 2018-19, nearly half were rejected or withdrawn. In 2017-18, 767 of the 1,411 protection orders submitted to the province were denied or withdrawn.

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In Newfoundland, 49 of the 275 protection orders requested in 2018-19 were denied.

When Global News asked other provinces the number of protection orders that were denied, all except Manitoba and Newfoundland said they were unable to provide the statistics, with many saying they simply do not track the numbers.

Not one province had numbers related to how many protection orders were breached.

“Many protection order applications and requests are simply spoken to in court, and there is no formal written application laying out all of the conditions wanted by the prosecution. Court services branch does not track information for denied or breached protection orders,” a spokesperson of B.C.’s minister of attorney general told Global News in an email.

When Global News asked Cross, the lawyer, about the lack of numbers, she said it “does not surprise” her.

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“It’s very unfortunate the provinces do not track these numbers. It makes it more difficult to get the data to work on and possibly make changes,” she said.

FROM 2016: How the Canadian system continues to fail domestic abuse victims

Click to play video: 'FULL EPISODE: Saturday, February 20th 2016'
FULL EPISODE: Saturday, February 20th 2016

When protection orders spark violence

Restraining orders are useful when you’re dealing with a “more reasonable” perpetrator, said Suzie Dunn, a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law. “They’re more likely to take it seriously and to actually give the person who’s made the complaint distance.”

But when the person “does not care about authority,” he or she is not likely to follow a restraining order, Dunn said. In some cases, just knowing an order has been requested can “enrage someone” and heighten the safety risk, she added.

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Protection orders often spark violent retaliation and are not always effective if violators have previously broken the law or have a history of violence, according to Linda Neilson, a professor from University of New Brunswick’s sociology department.

READ MORE: ‘Better than nothing’ — do restraining orders actually work?

Julie Lalonde, women’s rights advocate and public educator, said this is exactly what happened to her.

In 2005, Lalonde attempted to get a peace bond against her former boyfriend while living in Ottawa but said the experience was “truly a nightmare.”

Her former boyfriend had been stalking and threatening her for years, Lalonde said, adding that after numerous phone calls to police, an operator on the phone finally advised her to apply for a peace bond.

Julie Lalonde, women’s rights activist, said she was followed by her ex-boyfriend for 10 years. Submitted

“After I applied for one, I was not informed that he received 10 days to notice to appear in court so he spent the next 10 days terrorizing me and trying to get me to back down,” she said.

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On the day of her hearing, Lalonde said her ex-boyfriend showed up at her house, telling her to get in his car, go with him to the courthouse and tell the judge to revoke the peace bond.

“He said (he) intended to kill me if I didn’t revoke it so I went with him,” she said. “I showed up with him at the courthouse, and the judge scolded me and said I ‘should be ashamed of myself.’ And at no point, did anyone ask: ‘Why are you revoking this?'”

She said after this experience, the door for accessing any type of restraining order was “shut down” for her. She no longer trusted the legal system.

“He stalked me over a decade, and it only ended four years ago when he died in a car accident,” Lalonde said, adding that during that time she confided in friends for help.

READ MORE: Every 2.5 days, a woman or girl is killed in Canada, report shows

Lalonde is now a public educator and speaks on issues of violence against women. She said a huge issue that needs to be tackled is proper police training and the ability to understand what power and coercion look like.

Lisa Karol has been working at Nova House women’s shelter in Selkirk, Man., for more than 10 years. She said there are many forms of domestic violence, such as physical, emotional and psychological, and many times, it’s hard to see.

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“Domestic violence still has a huge stigma to it,” she said. “And it does not just happen to women.”

Karol said she’s had a client who applied for a restraining order after 49 years of marriage.

“Many times, the abuser does not play the ‘typical’ role,” she said, adding that this can complicate the court hearing, as lawyers and judges may not understand the manipulation or intimidation that can happen between the perpetrator and the victim.

Cross agrees. She says not enough lawyers and judges have a comprehensive understanding of family violence and its characteristics. As a result, women say it’s not worth applying for a protection order.

“Many have not had training on domestic violence,” she said. “We should increase awareness about the dynamics of family violence, which will lead to better performance and outcomes in court.”

WATCH: Here’s how anyone who has experienced violence can get the help they need

Click to play video: 'Here’s how anyone who has experienced violence can get the help they need'
Here’s how anyone who has experienced violence can get the help they need

What can be done?

Because protection orders can act essentially as a “piece of paper,” Karol said there is a huge importance around protection planning.

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“People who are harassing and abusing people are not going to respect a piece of paper. Many people need a support system,” she said.

She said clients usually don’t have trouble receiving protection orders when they are given help, such as filling out the application and piling the evidence together for the court.

And if someone breaches the order, Karol said she tells her client to call the police every time — whether it is direct or indirect contact.

After Camille Runke was killed in 2015, her sister, Laberge, called on the Manitoba government to do more to protect victims of domestic violence and stalking.

She advocated for an ankle bracelet monitoring system that would be given to those who have a protection order with a previous violent history as well a phone number to get counselling.

“If the accused is, indeed, stalking the victim, the ankle bracelet could almost certainly provide evidence if the abuse continues,” Laberge told Global News. “On the other hand, if the accused is innocent, the benefit for them is that they can feel secure in the fact that they may be cleared of such offences.”

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WATCH: Maddie Laberge talks about the difference an ankle bracelet could have made to help her sister, Camille Runke

At the time, Manitoba had a pilot project to track high-risk offenders. But the plan to expand the program was scrapped in 2017 by the provincial Conservatives, who said the electronic monitoring program for convicted offenders was “unreliable.”

A 2018 U.S. study found that electronic monitoring can decrease recidivism by abusers as it adds a layer of enforcement.

“Electronic monitoring has been used for decades to track convicted sex offenders who have been deemed high risk,” the study stated. “Studies show that the use of electronic monitoring has reduced recidivism rates among high-risk sex offenders.”

States such as Massachusetts and Kentucky allow a judge to order an abuser who has violated a protection order to wear an electronic tracker that transmits and records the abuser’s location.

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“Rather than relying on ‘he said, she said’ testimony, prosecutors can pull data from the electronic monitoring device to prove an abuser violated a protection order,” the study said. “The knowledge that the electronic monitoring technology will offer concrete proof of violation serves to deter at least some abusers from violating civil protection orders.”

But the study acknowledges there are flaws in the electronic monitoring — it does not stop the initial violence, and many times, perpetrators can violate it.

At the end of the day, experts like Cross say ankle bracelet monitoring systems and protection orders are not guaranteed to stop a knife or bullet, “but they are part of the solution.”

Protection orders can send a message to violators, she said. And if victims work with law enforcement officials who are properly trained on the dynamics of family violence, this could lead to better outcomes in the court system.

“A court order is a court order,” Cross said. “Police are expected to enforce this — it’s that simple. There should be more resources dedicated to educating police, lawyers and judges on domestic violence. Much more is needing than a restraining order; there needs to be better criminal responses to violence against women.”

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—With files from Global News’ and the Canadian Press

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