NDP member of the Alberta legislature Maria Fitzpatrick held back tears Monday as she recounted how her late husband beat and raped her and threatened to kill her until she was finally able to get away.
Fitzpatrick told her chilling story while speaking in favour of Bill 204, a private member's bill proposed by Independent MLA Deborah Drever, which would allow domestic violence victims to break their leases without financial penalty.
The Lethbridge East MLA was 23 when she married in 1972 and said she suffered nine years of abuse before she was able to flee with her two young daughters from their home in Cincinnati.
"Three times I left with my kids, twice I went to a shelter, twice I was forced to return or live on the streets," Fitzpatrick said in an emotional speech to the Alberta legislature.
"Both times I returned and the violence got worse. And the threats, which he could have carried out at any time, became more frequent and more intimidating.
"Broken bones, black eyes, sexual assault and two miscarriages as a result of this abuse were only some of the physical atrocities I had to endure."
Gun at the back of her head
Fitzpatrick, who is originally from St. John's, brought the legislature to a standstill as she told her story in horrifying detail.
She recounted how she frequently feared for her life. One night she awoke with a gun to the back of her head and "the clicking sound of the hammer as it was pulled," she recalled.
"There were no bullets in the gun, and he laughed hysterically," she said, her voice quivering with emotion.
"He beat me. He raped me. And then he threatened, the next time he promised, there would be bullets and he would kill our daughters first to hurt me and then kill me."
Fitzpatrick called the police, only to see her husband arrested and released. It took another 16 calls over two weeks for him to be arrested again, she said.
Her husband was given a suspended sentence after he was found guilty of breaking a restraining order. As he left the courtroom, he threatened to kill her again.
Judge advised her to get a divorce
When Fitzpatrick protested to the judge, she was subjected to a lecture. The judge said it was a marital issue and told her to just get a divorce, she said.
When Fitzpatrick came home that day, she walked into a terrifying situation, she said. Her husband was holding his mother and her children hostage at gunpoint. After her mother-in-law asked God to help them, he ran from the house. The family barricaded themselves in the house for several days.
Fitzpatrick and her daughters then got on a Greyhound bus to Yellowknife. It took them 62 hours to travel from Cincinnati.
That was in 1981. Her ex-husband died in 1992, but the effect of his violence lives on.
"This should never have happened to me or these situations to anybody else," Fitzpatrick said.
"My children have been scarred for their lives, and I will be horrified if anybody in this chamber votes against this bill."
No one did. Fitzpatrick received a standing ovation and the bill unanimously passed second reading.
If it becomes law, Bill 204 would amend the Residential Tenancies Act to allow victims to present landlords with a certificate confirming the danger.
The certificate would be issued if the victims have an emergency protection order or restraining order issued by the court, or if they have a signed statement from a social worker, nurse, physician, psychologist or police officer.
The bill would ensure that a tenant doesn't face any penalty for early termination of a lease. Fitzpatrick herself faced a financial penalty when she left her place in Cincinnati.