Maple Batalia case underscores problem of teen dating violence

Angry, confrontational and emotional: the raw sentiment aired at a sentencing for Maple Batalia's killer underscores the devastation wrought by violence against women.

Tragic death of B.C. teen fits pattern that puts young women at heightened risk of domestic violence

Maple Batalia's mother, Sarbjit Batalia, angrily confronted her daughter's killer, Gurjinder 'Gary' Dhaliwal during a dramatic sentencing hearing. (Felicity Don/CBC)

Most stories about Maple Batalia describe the murdered teenager as an aspiring actress and model. But she was also an aspiring doctor.

As the 19-year-old's mother delivered a victim impact statement which was as much a confessional to her beloved daughter as an angry indictment of the man who killed her, Sarbjit Batalia said she also once held the same aspiration.

"You and I had the same dream that we wanted to be doctors. But my circumstances did not allow me," Batalia told a hushed courtroom. 

"But somebody prevented you from fulfilling all your dreams."

It's not hard to imagine the circumstances which might have thwarted Sarbjit Batalia from entering what would have been a male-dominated profession in her youth: children, money, culture.

But how, in 2016, can young men like Gurjinder 'Gary' Dhaliwal still continue to rob young women of their dreams?

'Give me answers'

By any measure, the killer's sentencing on Monday was an extraordinary scene: emotional, confrontational, accusatory. The presiding judge reminded onlookers that this isn't how we normally do things in Canada.

And maybe that's too bad. Because as the problem of violence continues to plague Canadian teenage dating relationships, perhaps potential abusers should be forced to see the extreme consequences of their crimes.

Maple Batalia wanted to be a doctor, but was also a talented artist, a model and an aspiring actress. She was 19 years old. (Facebook)

The courtroom was packed; sobbing onlookers stood as they strained to hear the voices of Batalia's friends and family pour out their hearts.

More than a dozen victims sat in the box normally reserved for the jury, watching as Dhaliwal sat in a suit with no tie, back pressed against the glass of the prisoner's box, hands in his lap, thumbs pressed together.

At times, the victims addressed him directly:

"Gary, you took someone who would have made this world a better place."

'Your actions, Gary, have deprived us of a happy life."

And finally, Sarbjit Batalia turned to face him, gasping for breath as she yelled: "Why did you kill my precious Maple? Give me answers."

'For daring to break up with him'

Sadly, the specifics of the case fit a pattern which groups like the Canadian Women's Foundation have been asking the public to consider for years. A pattern backed up by Statistics Canada.

Women are much more likely than men to be assaulted by someone they know. Almost half of female murder victims are killed by former or current intimate partners. Often when they try to leave.

And the rate of violent crime against women in Batalia's age group — 15 to 24 — is 42 per cent higher than the rate for women aged 25 to 34.

Studies have described the omnipresence of the cell phone in teen life as being like a leash for young abusers to exert control over their partners.

Gurjinder 'Gary' Dhaliwal stared straight ahead as Maple Batalia's friends and family begged for answers to her murder. (Felicity Don/CBC)

Batalia tried to end her relationship with Dhaliwal because of his infidelity. They were both 19 but had dated for four years. In court, her friends spoke of the torment he put her through. 

In the weeks after Batalia told him it was over, Dhaliwal texted her thousands of times. He confronted and accused her male acquaintances. And finally, he got a gun and knife and lay in wait to kill her.

"And for what?" Crown prosecutor Wendy Stephens asked the court. "For daring to break up with him."

Stephens said the fact the murder happened in the context of a break up should be considered an aggravating factor in the determination of a sentence. She called Dhaliwal's behaviour obsessive and controlling.

"In this country — of course — men do not get to impose themselves on women," she said.

'A terrible thing'

But as the numbers show, they do.

Statistics Canada says it's tough to quantify violence against women because of underreporting, but even so, women are 11 times more likely than men to be sexually victimized and three times more likely to be stalked.

One of Batalia's friends spoke of her frustration with the halting pace of justice.

Taking days off work only to see hearings adjourned after ten minutes. Waiting nearly five years for a verdict. And then seeing the man who shot Batalia multiple times before slashing her head with a knife plead guilty to second-degree murder.

The judge also pointed out that impact statements aren't normally the place to criticize the court system. But again, perhaps that's too bad, because confusion and anger with the legal system only contribute to a victim's pain.

There's no way to tell what Dhaliwal thought as he sat, pale and impotent, listening to his victims beg for answers to a senseless crime. The shadows around his eyes were so dark you couldn't tell if they were open or closed.

When he did finally speak, it was in a voice so faint barely anyone could hear him. He apparently admitted to doing "a terrible thing." He'll serve a life sentence but will be eligible for parole in 21 years.

We also don't broadcast court proceedings.

And perhaps that's a shame as well: more than the 100 or so people who made it into the courtroom should witness firsthand the senseless devastation wrought by one man's belief he had a right to steal a woman's dreams.

About the Author

Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.


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