N.B. planning domestic death review committee for early 2009

The New Brunswick government will create a committee that would automatically review any death involving domestic violence, a senior official has confirmed.

The New Brunswick government will create a committee that would automatically review any death involving domestic violence, a senior official has confirmed.

The absence of a domestic death review committee, which the province hopes to have in place early next year, has been highlighted in the case of John McKendy, the popular St. Thomas University professor who was killed on Oct. 31

His son-in-law, Nicholas Wade Baker, 27, was charged with first-degree murder, but was found dead on Saturday in the parking lot of a Moncton hotel.

The province's chief coroner is still finishing a report into the McKendy case and a decision on any public inquiries will not be made until that process has concluded.

Norma Dubé, the assistant deputy minister for the province's women's issues branch, would not comment specifically on the McKendy case but she said the province anticipates the new domestic death committee would be established by about April 1, 2009.

"Government did commit to an establishment of such a review committee. That will happen," Dubé told CBC News.

"For us it is an important part of our action plan and we call it, 'A Better World for Women,' and to create a better world for women the issue of violence is absolutely critical."

Rosella Melanson, the executive director of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said these review committees are critical and the McKendy tragedy would be an obvious case to send to one.

Preventing the next one

"The feeling is that we are not learning as much as we could [after domestic violence deaths]," Melanson said. "You can't keep saying these are terrible, shocking tragedies and then wait for the next one. You have to do something to prevent the next one."

She said in the last two decades there have been more than 90 deaths relating to domestic violence.

These review committees will bring together an array of people ranging from social workers, lawyers, police officers, to transition house workers with the idea of finding out what policies can be changed so further tragedies are avoided.

The province's five-year action plan is in its fourth year. A domestic death review committee is a part of the strategy, but it is coming after a series of other changes that Dubé said have helped women.

For instance, the province has a specialized domestic violence court in Moncton that has been operating since May 2007. Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman has a team of professionals in her court that carry with them specialized training to help victims of domestic violence.

Melanson said the Moncton court has been a success, but now similar models must be rolled out elsewhere in the province.

RCMP forced to apologize

The issue of an independent investigation into domestic violence cases reared up this week after the RCMP's handling of the McKendy file.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Darrell LaFosse was forced to apologize after a media spokesman said earlier in the week the police did not know about threatening e-mails from Baker.

LaFosse said a family member had in fact spoken with a Mountie on Oct. 27 about the e-mails and that person raised concerns about the safety of one family member. That statement, LaFosse said, was not immediately put into the RCMP file.

The New Brunswick RCMP has asked an officer from Prince Edward Island to review its investigation. There have been earlier calls for a public investigation into the matter from McKendy's friends and colleagues and from the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Research on Family Violence.

Dubé said her office has been working closely with the province's chief coroner on how to implement the review committee.

Currently, only Ontario has an established domestic death review committee, so New Brunswick officials have been studying that model and fashioning a body that would best reflect the needs in the province.

"A domestic death review process is one more of those pieces that really is important and is necessary," Dubé said.