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Call domestic violence an epidemic inquest jury recommends

"There is still much work to do," according to Val Warmerdam, daughter of one of three murder victims when asked about the recommendations coming out an inquiry looking at the the murder of her mother and two other women.

The five-person jury selected for the coroner’s inquest into the deaths of 66-year-old Carol Culleton, 36-year-old Anastasia Kuzyk and 48-year-old Nathalie Warmerdam on September 22, 2015 at the hands of Basil Borutski returned with a guilty verdict and has made 86 recommendations on how to help prevent intimate partner violence.

The number one recommendation put forward is to have the Government of Ontario formally declare intimate partner violence as an epidemic. None of the recommendations coming out of the inquest are binding due to the fact the Ontario government said it was not taking a position on any specific ideas yet because the actual slate of recommendations will require careful study. 

Other recommendations forwarded by the panel include the establishment of an independent Intimate Partner Violence Commission (IPV) dedicated to eradicating intimate partner violence and the commissioner should have sufficient authority to ensure meaningful access to any person, document or information required to accomplish the commission’s mandate. It also called for stable funding to allow the commission to operate independently.

The five-member community jury was tasked with delivering a verdict and recommendations in the hope their findings may save other women from being victims of domestic violence.

For three weeks the jury and others gathered in the Pembroke Best Western Hotel and heard testimony from over 20 experts in the field of advocacy for women in domestic abuse relationships; current and retired police officers, some of whom were directly involved in the investigation of the murders of the three women, and lawyers who specialize in the area domestic and family members of the deceased women.

Carol Cullerton, 66, Anastasia Kuzyk, 36 and Nathalie Warmerdam, 48, were killed on their properties in the Ottawa Valley on September 22, 2015 by Borutski, a man with a known history of violence against women.

Borutski was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 after a jury found him guilty of two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Kuzyk and Warmerdam and one count of second-degree murder for the death of Culleton.

It was shown throughout the trial that Borutski repeatedly showed his contempt of authority by breaching many of his probation conditions without any consequences. Among them was his refusal to wear an ankle bracelet and he failed to attend any of his 12 anger management sessions.

When the trial was completed in December 2017, a coalition of women’s groups highlighted some of the disturbing questions that arose from the trial and are hopeful their questions will help form the mandate of the inquest when its date and location are announced.

Some of those questions include why he was released from custody after serving a jail term for assaulting Kuzyk, even though he refused to sign a non-contact order. Also, why he was never held to account for failing to participate in a court-ordered partner assault education program and never attended a single session. They also hope the inquest will examine how he was able to obtain a shotgun and ammunition when he had a long history of threatening, harassing and assaulting women. His criminal history also included direct physical abuse of his partners and allegations of physical altercations with police officers and direct defiance of court orders of which he was never held accountable.

The Chief Coroner’s Office released a statement in August 2019 calling for an inquest, with the intent it be held in Renfrew County in order to investigate the depth of domestic abuse in a rural, remote setting and to allow local residents to be involved in the process.

Among the other 86 recommendations were:

  • Create the role of a survivor advocate to advocate on behalf of survivors regarding their experience in the justice system
  • Allowing victims of abuse to testify in court via video.
  • Have the province to investigate, and ideally begin making people charged or convicted of IPV wear electronic bracelets. That would alert police if a perpetrator moved to a restricted area near a survivor.
  • Probation service to review its mandate in order to prioritize victim safety — including regular contact with survivors — to enforce the law when conditions are breached, and to improve efforts to rehabilitate offenders.
  • Ensure that survivors and those assisting survivors have direct and timely communication with probation officers to assist in safety planning.
  • Funding for safe rooms in the homes of survivors of high-risk perpetrators.
  • Include psychological abuse, also known as coercive control, in the Criminal Code of Canada.

Under another proposed change, the jury called for any recipients (ministries, social agencies, etc.)  of recommendations stemming from a coroner's inquest would be required by law to report back on why they did not take action in certain areas.

A short press conference was held following the end of the inquest involving some of the participants of the inquiry.

Prabhu Rajan, counsel to the Chief Coroner for Ontario, reminded everyone that the inquest is a set of recommendations made by a community jury from Renfrew County. He emphasized the need for the inquiry to be held where the women lived, and died.

He said the inquiry was delayed so that proper technology could be put in place so that it increased the availability of people to watch and/or participate in the proceedings, especially in a rural location.

Kirsten Mercer, legal counsel for EVA Renfrew County, said the jury said it is time for the province to put “its money where its mouth is” and provide stable and sustainable funding to implement the recommendations.

Pamela Cross, a lawyer who works with victims of abuse, said she spoke too many of her clients were grateful to the jury for including their suggestions into the 896 recommendations.

“We have women living close to where the worst kind of domestic abuse imaginable took place three times in one day and they are scared the same thing may happen to them,” Cross said. “It is vital these recommendations be adopted to help any other future tragedies like this.”

Valerie Warmerdam, daughter of Nathalie Warmerdam, said her mother’s death may finally bring closure for her.

“I want to thank all those who have offered me support, but I am not here for that reason,” she said. “But I am here to do everything I can to help someone not go through what I am going through.

She also expressed anger with the lack of change over the years. She cited a 1998 inquest recommending that firearms be seized and removed from individuals charged with domestic abuse, yet it has not been implemented.

“I am furious,” she said. “I am furious that something so simple in some of these complex recommendations can't be done. “I lived in this situation and I have been living with the result for seven years. This is not the most important recommendation, but it should have been done by now. These are good recommendations. There is still much work to do.”

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