During a wide-ranging roundtable discussion, the inquiry — called the Mass Casualty Commission — heard that the situation won’t change unless more funding, education, support and political will is applied to the societal problem. The inquiry is investigating how a gunman with previous domestic assault accusations drove a replica police car and murdered 22 people in Nova Scotia in April 2020.
Katreena Scott, a professor and clinical psychologist at Western University, said men who perpetrate violence need more support and services. “Very often we don’t know and we don’t see and we don’t recognize risk factors and warning signs of abuse perpetration,” Scott said.
She said that in Ontario, research has shown that a majority of perpetrators of femicides exhibited risk factors that were missed by authorities, including obsessive behaviour and violent histories with former partners. Scott said that people who witness gender-based violence or who suspect someone they know may be a victim often don’t know how to help or where to get help.
“We often then lean away and guard the impact of abusive behaviours or at worst we blame the victim for their own victimization,” she said. “What we do is we empower perpetrators to continue to behave abusively.”
Scott noted that around 20 per cent of abusers are most likely to repeat their violent behaviour once they are in the justice system, which then fails to address the problem. Intervention with high-risk men needs to be more intense, and they need to be monitored closely once they enter the system, she said.
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Scott said funding is needed to grow a “suite of service options” that is flexible to meet the needs of men and maintain the core goal of keeping women and children safe. “Men do access services; they will reach out when offered the opportunity. Change is possible — we should expect change and we need to act on it,” she said.
The Nova Scotia shooting rampage that began on April 18, 2020, was preceded by a domestic assault by gunman Gabriel Wortman against his spouse, Lisa Banfield. The inquiry has gathered evidence indicating he used coercive tactics against her throughout their 19-year relationship, as well as against other women.
“I think we have very few tools in the criminal justice system or outside … to deal with men like the perpetrator in this mass casualty,” said Sue Bookchin, of the feminist Be the Peace Institute. “He was not somebody who would have reached out for help.”
To prevent tragedies like the Nova Scotia shootings, children should be taught in schools about gender-based violence and about how to better handle their emotions and build healthy relationships.
“If we did it this way in schools, we could shift the perceptions of an entire generation,” said Bookchin.
Kristina Fifield, of the Halifax-based Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, said more education and accountability needs to occur in workplaces, while she said those in power need to put a higher priority on addressing gender-based violence.
Fifield said government funding needs to stop being “reactionary” and instead be tailored to specific needs. “The one-size-fits-all approach does not work for perpetrators of violence and it does not work for victims and survivors.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.