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Inquest hears about prosecution of intimate partner violence offences in Ontario

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

Dangerous offender and long-term offender designations in intimate partner violence cases are challenging to secure because they require proof of a perpetrator’s actions beyond a reasonable doubt, a coroner’s inquest heard Friday.

The inquest is examining the deaths of three women murdered on the same day by a man they had been previous relationships with. Basil Borutski had a known history of violence against women and the inquest heard there was a dangerous offender or long-term offender application being considered for him, though it was not pursued.

Such designations aren’t easy to apply for and obtain, said Julien Lalande, the acting Crown attorney in Renfrew County.

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

“The same challenges you face trying to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt at trial are the challenges you can face in those applications for (these) designations,” he told the inquest.

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“You’re trying to prove that incidents happened and you can be at a point in an (intimate partner violence) case where you’re trying to run what I would describe almost as mini trials to establish the existence of those incidents beyond a reasonable doubt, and you would run into the same issues you would do in an (intimate partner violence) trial.”

Dangerous offender and long-term offender designations are given to offenders who likely pose a danger to the public.

Crown counsel can apply to the sentencing court to have an offender designated a dangerous offender if they have committed a serious personal injury offence such as sexual assault or aggravated assault and are deemed likely to do so again in the future, Lalande explained.

On the other hand, prosecutors can apply for a long-term offender designation if a sentence of two or more years is appropriate for the current offence and if the offender poses a substantial risk of reoffending and causing serious harm.

A dangerous offender finding results in imprisonment for an indeterminate period of time, whereas a long-term offender designation will result in an additional term of intense supervision in the community for up to 10 years after the completion of the offender’s regular sentence, Lalande noted.

Read more: Borutski inquest hears recommendations for tackling intimate partner violence

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Generally, Lalande said, Crown counsel will only pursue these designations if there is “sufficient evidence.” But he said arguing for such designations is a “difficult exercise.”

“There’s a concern that your evidence will degrade over time,” said Lalande.

“It doesn’t mean we don’t do it, I want to be clear to the jury, I’ve engaged in this exercise before because it’s the right thing to do, but sometimes it’s not there because of the passage of time, because of the issues of proof.”

Nadia Thomas, who works in the Ministry of the Attorney General’s criminal law division, told the inquest that dangerous offender and long-term offender designations aren’t very common.

“LTO and DO proceedings are relatively rare considering the amount of cases we deal with in the (justice) system overall,” she said.

“But that being the case, if you do look at the past approximately 20 years since 2002, we’ve seen roughly a doubling of LTO and DO applications brought by Crowns and … they remained relatively constant up until the pandemic.”

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

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