More public education needed on intimate partner violence in Ontario, Borutski inquest hears

Basil Borutski arrives in a police vehicle for an appearance at the courthouse in Pembroke, Ont. on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

More education on intimate partner violence — starting in Ontario schools — and allowing police to disclose whether someone’s partner has a history of abuse would go a long way toward protecting potential victims in the future, an expert on research into violence against women told an inquest on Thursday.

The inquest is examining the deaths of three women killed by a man they were in previous relationships with and is considering ways to better protect victims of intimate partner violence in rural communities.

Carol Culleton, 66; Nathalie Warmerdam, 48; and Anastasia Kuzyk, 36, who all lived in the Ottawa Valley, were killed on Sept. 22, 2015, by Basil Borutski, a man with a known history of violence against women.

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Peter Jaffe, a psychologist and former academic director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women & Children, told the inquest there’s a clear need for more public education around intimate partner violence in Ontario.

The key, he said, is having domestic violence prevention taught in schools, universities and colleges so that children, adolescents and young adults are well informed and prepared to respond to the issue from an early age.

“This issue is everyone’s business,” Jaffe, a professor at Western University, said at the inquest Thursday.

“It’s not just victims and perpetrators. It’s their peer group, making sure these behaviours aren’t condoned, that we don’t respond in silence, that we say and do the right things and we try to make sure we get help for victims and perpetrators on a timely basis.”

The provincial government needs to boost funding for public education on intimate partner violence and complete an annual review of public attitudes on the topic, Jaffe said. While there are already some programs in place, there is limited knowledge of their uptake, he noted.

Another proposal Jaffe implored the inquest to consider is the implementation of legislation similar to a law in the United Kingdom, which has also been introduced in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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The U.K.’s Clare’s Law is a policy giving people the right to learn from police if their current or ex-partner has any previous history of violence or abuse. It’s named after Clare Wood, a woman who was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend in 2009.

Jaffe said the Ministry of the Attorney General should develop a similar policy in Ontario to give police the ability to disclose information about a perpetrator’s documented history of intimate partner violence to new partners who request it.

“We need to warn future victims,” he said.

“This is also especially timely given the number of people who are involved in dating relationships, the number of people who meet somebody online …. Our death review committee has seen victims who were killed by somebody they met online through Plenty of Fish or through eHarmony or various websites.”

Jaffe further recommended that Ontario explore the appropriateness of applying a dangerous and long-term offender designation in high-risk intimate partner violence cases where perpetrators have long-standing patterns of violence and/or multiple victims.

In his review of the deaths being examined by the inquest, Jaffe noted that Borutski was convicted of assaulting his former partner when he was 20 years old and continued a pattern of extreme violence with intimate partners over the following four decades.

In 2013, two years before Borutski killed Culleton, Warmerdam and Kuzyk, he was deemed to be high risk by probation officers _ something Jaffe suggested could’ve been communicated to others who knew Borutski or dealt with him in the justice system.

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“There were steps being taken,” he said. “But if you look at the overall pattern, there wasn’t always a clear action plan and ongoing monitoring and potential collaboration with the family court.”

While many suggestions for improvements have been made in the past, Jaffe stressed to the inquest jury that it’s crucial for the provincial government to establish a committee on intimate partner violence and homicide prevention to track how much progress is being made on implementing recommendations on the issue.

He suggested that committee include senior members of various ministries central to addressing intimate partner violence, an equal number of community experts and an independent chairperson who could speak freely on progress made.

When the public’s attention on the deaths of Culleton, Warmerdam and Kuzyk inevitably wanes, the committee would ensure the recommendations that come from the inquest aren’t lost, Jaffe said.

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“There’s a number of skeptics — rightly so — in the community who are burnt out, feel hopeless, helpless, given what’s happened on these issues in the past,” he said. “We owe the victims and surviving family members to make a clear commitment for change.”

The inquest, which began Monday, is expected to last three weeks and hear from approximately 30 witnesses.

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