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Act now not later if you know of domestic abuse inquest is told

If you know of someone who is a victim of domestic abuse, act now before the victim is injured or killed.

Domestic abuse not only affects the victim and other members of a household, but it can affect an entire neighbourhood or community and sadly, there are many cases where neighbours of the victim are aware of what is happening, but keep silent and pray that it stops rather than intervening directly or indirectly by alerting authorities.

That powerful message was delivered by a survivor of domestic abuse during the 11th day of a coroner's inquest examining the killings of three women seven years earlier.

On Sept. 22, 2015, a man with a known history of gender-based violence murdered Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam in the Ottawa Valley despite having strict probation conditions including wearing an electronic ankle monitor, a no-contact order with two of the victims and ordered to attend mandatory anger management treatment, all of which he ignored without consequence.

She almost pleaded with the five-member jury to address her experience and the experience of other victims when they deliver a verdict and recommendations following the completion of the 15-day coroner’s inquest being held in Pembroke.

As she shared her experience in front of the Leslie Reaume, the chief presiding officer, and about 35 people present in the meeting room, some members of the public inquiry were visibly upset, some wiping away tears as she went into specific details of her near-death experience.

The riveting testimony from Heather Imming, who was left for dead after her late husband struck here in the head with a tire iron in the backyard of their Carleton Place. Bleeding and barely able to move, she was eventually rescued by neighbours who moved her to one of their homes and monitored her home 24 hours and seven days a week for a short time.

Several neighbours watched her home in order to reassure her that she was safe and secure from her husband who had a history of domestic violence both before and after she eventually left from their relationship. However, even after she left him there always a concern he would attack her again.

Her 15-year relationship was similar to thousands of women who enter a relationship completely unaware of the true nature of their partner, and all seemed normal in the beginning.

“Over the course of our time together in the 1990s, his behaviour and abuse became more violent towards me,” she said. “It started with pushes and shoves, then escalated to him strangling me until he tried to kill me when he hit me with the iron. He threw his tire iron aside and used his thumbs to try and remove my left eye. He said to me that if I can't see him in the courtroom, I can't identify him.”

Along with informing the jury of her neighbour’s courage to secure her and ready to defend her in case her late husband intended to cause further harm, she said if he had been declared a dangerous offender, there was a chance the near-fatal attack might never have happened.

"I would love to see them utilize the dangerous offender application more," she said. "I think it should be not so onerous for the police and crown to have to follow up on this. It's the level of danger they need to be looking at, rather than the list of convictions."

Although her neighbours provided aid and a sense of security after the attack, the inability of anyone to intervene on her behalf is not uncommon according to Julie Lalonde, a domestic violence survivor who has lobbied for protection of women, who also testified on Monday.

Lalonde, originally from Sudbury, dated a man for two years before she ended the relationship. She said he stalked her for more than a decade after that breakup until she was finally free of him after he died.

"I fundamentally believe the community is the answer to most of our social ills, but particularly gender-based violence," she testified. 

She shared a PowerPoint presentation that she uses for seminars she attends and is a key part of workshops she leads for anyone concerned about domestic violence. She said there are “5Ds of Intervention” to help both the victim and those familiar with the situation but are not ready to get involved.

  • Distract, which could be as simple as purposely spilling a drink if someone is being harassed at a bar in order to create a distraction and break the tension.
  • Delegate, which means alerting a person of authority.
  • Document, which involves keeping notes and footage of any abuse.
  • Delay, which calls for waiting until it's safe and checking in with the victim.
  • Direct, which entails creating a "safety bubble" between the victim and the abuser.

Lalonde concluded her testimony by encouraging anyone who knows of a domestic abuse situation to get involved for the sake of the victim and to protect from what could eventually lead to a fatal outcome if action is not taken.

"But if I have to make a choice between educating you and protecting you, I want you to always go towards protecting," said Lalonde. "That is the most important element."

As a survivor of domestic abuse, she urged everyone to help before a situation turns bad. The victims need immediate assistance in order to avoid violence, and far too often when a woman leaves a violent relationship, suddenly everyone wants to help and be supportive after the fact.

"I speak from a place of power, because I've done a lot of work to get better," Lalonde said. "But that doesn't mean that I am better, more resilient or stronger or smarter than women who are not here today who should be here today."

The inquest is expected to wrap up this Friday and the jury will begin their deliberation and submit their findings.



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