Co-ordinated approach to partner violence is needed, experts say in wake of inquest

By Noushin Ziafati

A coroner’s inquest has highlighted the need for a co-ordinated approach to intimate partner violence, including ways to address perpetrators as well as oversight and accountability measures to ensure that real change is being made, experts say. 

A five member-jury presented a list of recommendations Tuesday at the inquest into the deaths of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam, who were murdered by a former partner on their properties in rural eastern Ontario in 2015. 

The 86 recommendations are aimed at preventing similar tragedies and are largely directed at the provincial government. 

Among them are recommendations that the province formally declare intimate partner violence an epidemic, establish a 24/7 hotline for men to prevent them from engaging in this form of violence, and study the best approach for disclosing information about a perpetrator’s history of intimate partner violence, similar to Clare’s Law in the United Kingdom. 

The jury also called on the province to establish an independent commission dedicated to eradicating intimate partner violence, as well as a provincial implementation committee to ensure that the recommendations from the inquest are thoroughly considered and any responses are fully reported and published.

Pamela Cross, a lawyer and expert on violence against women who testified at the inquest, said the recommendations “cover a wide range of areas where improvement is needed.”

“There isn’t one thing that’s going to end intimate partner violence, there isn’t one thing that’s going to make sure that men who abused women are handled in such a way that they can never harm another woman,” she said in an interview Wednesday. 

“There are many, many, many strategies that are needed.” 

The first recommendation presented by the jury — to have the provincial government formally declare intimate partner violence an epidemic — brought Cross to tears, she said. 

If implemented, she said this would validate what advocates, victims’ families and survivors have known about intimate partner violence for a “very long time,” raise awareness of the issue, and likely draw more investment from the government to tackling it, Cross added. 

“To have the province of Ontario stand up and say, ‘Intimate partner violence is an epidemic,’ opens a door, a little bit wider than it’s ever been opened before,” she said. 

“It’s a public health crisis. And it needs to be understood as that so that the proper analysis is used when we address it.” 

Katreena Scott, a psychologist, professor and academic director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University, said she was pleased to see the recommendations specifically aimed at perpetrators of intimate partner violence.

She said establishing a 24/7 hotline for those who need support and improving the co-ordination of services that would address their substance use and mental health needs would go a long way in preventing and responding to this form of violence. 

“Intervention means in part that we need to do some things to help (a perpetrator) change and support him in changing his abusive behaviour,” Scott said. 

“It also means that we need to be able to respond when he’s not changing, or when his risk is escalating. The reality of that now is that often we have a system that has too many gaps and too many holes, so his risk may be escalating.”  

Crystal Giesbrecht, director of research and communications at the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan, said the recommendation that Ontario look into adopting an approach similar to Clare’s Law is one of the many that stood out to her. 

The U.K. law allows police to warn someone that they could be in danger from their partner, and similar pieces of legislation have been adopted in Saskatchewan and Alberta. 

Since the law came into effect in Saskatchewan in June 2020, Giesbrecht said several individuals have contacted police forces in the province and received information “that is really important for them being able to plan for safety.” They have also been connected with support services, she said.

Giesbrecht said she would like to see Clare’s Law implemented nationally, not just in Ontario, so that information about a partner’s domestic violence history is accessible to everyone in the country, while stressing that this is just “one tool in the tool box” that is needed to address intimate partner violence and protect victims. 

A recent report by a parliamentary standing committee on addressing intimate partner and family violence made 28 recommendations to the federal government, including to work with provinces and territories to explore the feasibility of implementing Clare’s Law in Canada.

Chantalle Aubertin, spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti, said in a statement Thursday that the minister is carefully reviewing the report and its recommendations.

The Clare’s Law process is being led by the provinces and territories, as they have responsibility for the administration of justice, said Aubertin.

Cross, the lawyer, suggested that Ontario has the opportunity to review the benefits and limitations of the Clare’s Law legislation that’s been adopted in Canada and the U.K., as the jury recommended, before deciding to implement its own version of the law. 

“If we’re going to be the fourth or fifth or sixth province to implement something along those lines, I just really think we’re in such a wonderful position to be able to work on it, to make sure that it’s as good as it can possibly be,” she said.

Seeing how many of the recommendations echo those previously made by experts and advocates, Scott, of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, emphasized the importance of accountability.

“In many cases, we know what changes and improvements are needed to prevent these kinds of tragedies. What’s really needed is the political and public well to make these changes happen,” she said. 

— with files from Erika Ibrahim