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'These deaths don't end': Inquest hears community ideas for tackling partner violence

Ontario needs reliable rural cellphone service and an agency to oversee action on intimate partner violence and femicide, Renfrew County residents are proposing, in the hopes of preventing tragedies like one that unfolded in their community nearly seven years ago.

Their recommendations were heard Thursday on the final day of testimony at a coroner's inquest examining the deaths of three women — Carol Culleton, Nathalie Warmerdam and Anastasia Kuzyk — who were killed by their former partner in the Renfrew County area on Sept. 22, 2015. 

It's also considering ways to protect victims of intimate partner violence, particularly in rural communities.

Pamela Cross, a lawyer and expert on violence against women, detailed a list of ideas Renfrew County community members shared with her about what could be done to better protect victims.

"Some of them came from people who had specific knowledge of what happened, some of them didn't. Some gave general ideas, others gave very specific suggestions. Some people work within the systems for which they were proposing changes," Cross told the inquest. 

"But in many cases, the suggestions came from people who live here, who knew what happened was wrong, and have ideas about how to make things better." 

In total, Cross said Renfrew County community members shared more than 60 ideas for change with her during community consultations held this spring. 

Top of the list of recommendations was one to establish a provincial body to oversee and ensure accountability on all action taken on intimate partner violence and femicide, including action on recommendations coming from inquests, she said.

Community members also mentioned the need to expand and upgrade cellphone service across the region. Cross previously told the inquest that one of the specific barriers that victims of intimate partner violence in rural communities face in reaching out for help is spotty phone and internet service. 

They also suggested that the Ontario government adopt legislation similar to Clare's Law in the U.K., which allows police to disclose risk related information to a current or former intimate partner. 

Cross told the inquest jury that similar legislation has been adopted in Saskatchewan and Alberta, but it may be worth evaluating existing legislation in other jurisdictions before recommending a similar law in Ontario.  

"For example, the Saskatchewan and Alberta legislation only looks at physical and sexual violence," she said. 

"It doesn't look at coercive control, it doesn't look at psychological abuse. So in other words, if I go in to ask about my new partner, the only information I'm going to get is if he has engaged in physical or sexual abusive behaviour. And it's not a lot of information that's provided, it's level of risk — high,  medium or low."

Another idea residents shared was having police dispersed throughout Renfrew County — instead of at the four police detachments in the community — to ensure that they can answer 911 calls in a timely manner. 

Some of the other ideas they proposed include establishing a registry for repeat domestic abuse offenders, creating a system to enhance information sharing between the different court or legal systems so they have a "complete picture" of the situation a victim is dealing with, and giving victims "timely" notification when an offender is being released from prison. 

The final idea Cross shared, which she said was paramount, is ensuring that the community is engaged and actively working to stop intimate partner violence from happening.

The community members said this could be done through hosting community engagement sessions on intimate partner violence and models of intervention at the community level, creating a neighbourhood watch program for intimate partner violence, as well as making intimate partner safety part of every municipality's community safety strategy, she added. 

"I'm going to share two short quotes from consultation participants. One of them said, 'To survive, you have to live in a community that takes responsibility for your safety," Cross said. 

"And another said, 'You can have the best or the worst safety plan in the world and it isn't going to matter a great deal. In the end, what's going to help keep you alive is someone keeping an eye on your abuser.' And I don't mean police, probation and counselling services, although all of them have a role. I mean the community, friends, neighbours and employers. Bystander intervention has to be taken to a whole new level." 

Cross stressed to the jury that its role in the inquest is vital. 

"What you're here to do today is so important," she told the five-memberjury. 

"These deaths don't end. They didn't end in 2015, or any of the seven years between now and then." 

Closing remarks are set to be heard Friday, while the jury's recommendations and verdict are expected to be presented on Tuesday. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press

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