What the courts knew about Basil Borutski before he murdered 3 women

New details are emerging about what the courts and probation officials knew about Basil Borutski a year before he murdered Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton in 2015.

Courts concerned about Borutski in 2014, and he could have bought gun despite lifetime ban, CBC News learns

Basil Borutski stands in a room at the Pembroke OPP detachment shortly after his arrest. (OPP/Ontario Superior Court of Justice)

New details are emerging about what the courts and probation officials knew about Basil Borutski a year before he murdered Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton in 2015.

And advocates working to end violence against women say they hope the justice system will do more to monitor domestic offenders and protect victims in light of the problems in this case.

Borutski was convicted Nov. 24 of two counts of first-degree murder in the shootings of Kuzyk and Warmerdam, and one count of second-degree murder for strangling Culleton. He is sentenced to life in prison and he'll find out how long he'll be ineligible to apply for parole at a sentencing hearing in Pembroke, Ont., Tuesday and Wednesday.

From left, Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton were murdered by Basil Borutski at their homes in and around Wilno, Ont., on Sept. 22, 2015. (CBC News)

During Borutski's trial in Ottawa, the jury heard his prior criminal convictions for threatening Warmerdam's family in 2012 and assaulting and choking Kuzyk in 2013.

He was actually on probation for threatening Warmerdam's son and their dog when he beat Kuzyk. And he was on probation for the offences against Kuzyk when he murdered her, Warmerdam and Culleton on Sept. 22, 2015.

Court also heard he never took part in the Living Without Violence partner assault response program he was ordered to attend in Eganville, Ont., after his offences against the Warmerdams years before the murders.

Disregard for probation

By the time Borutski was sentenced to jail for assaulting and choking Kuzyk, the courts had indicated concern — on the record — about Borutski's repeated flouting of court orders.

"It's just simply violation after violation of orders," said assistant Crown attorney Teresa James as she made her sentencing arguments in September 2014, a year before the murders.

He's violating court orders all over the place.- Crown attorney Teresa James, Pembroke courthouse, Sept. 12, 2014

"He's violating court orders all over the place — violating a driving prohibition ... violating a weapons prohibition, violating [probation] orders — and all they required him to do ... is simply keep the peace and be of good behaviour, and he can't manage that, in my respectful submission," she said, according to a transcript.

The judge in the case also expressed concern about Borutski's disregard for the court.

"It is trite to say that Mr. Borutski, when committing these offences while still on probation for others, causes concern for the court ... [he] appears to have little regard for existing orders," Justice N. Jane Wilson said as she handed down Borutski's sentence, according to a transcript.

"There is little to no evidence before the court suggesting that Mr. Borutski has taken steps to undertake [rehabilitation]."

Didn't want to attend programs

During Borutski's trial for assaulting and choking her, Kuzyk testified about what happened and also raised concerns herself about Borutski's failure to attend the partner assault response program.

"He kept hitting me ... over and over again. I was screaming, at that point in time I was begging him to kill me. It hurt so much, my face was very sore, very battered up, and he wanted me to stop talking and he kept holding my mouth and he had his hands around my throat, like pressing. He just was trying to get me to stop making any sounds," she testified, according to a court transcript.

Borutski assaulted and choked Kuzyk when he was living with her at her house on Szczipior Road, in Wilno, Ont., in late 2013. (OPP/Ontario Superior Court of Justice)

After the assault, Borutski alluded to "probably really needing" to attend the classes in Eganville, Ont., Kuzyk told court. But she ended up taking photos of her injuries a few days later because she was concerned Borutski wasn't going to follow through.

"He was talking about not wanting to," Kuzyk testified.

"I took them [the photos] because I wanted him to remember what he'd done and I wanted him to get some help about what he could possibly do, and we had discussed the fact that he was going to go and hopefully fulfill that."

Murderous dream

Kuzyk also testified Borutski had told her he dreamed about drowning Warmerdam.

Kuzyk knew Warmerdam, court heard. Kuzyk testified she and Borutski were becoming friends close to the end of his relationship with Warmerdam, and that Kuzyk visited them at Warmerdam's farmhouse.

He'd told me that he had a dream that he was holding Nathalie, one of his exes, under the water and killing her, that he was drowning her.- Anastasia Kuzyk, Pembroke courthouse, May 26, 2014

"He'd told me that he had a dream that he was holding Nathalie, one of his exes, under the water and killing her, that he was drowning her. And we had talked about this and he said we should have paid more attention to this, and he said that he was not seeing me ... he didn't remember half the things I said that he'd done, he didn't remember hitting me, he didn't recall strangling me, like trying to hold my throat upstairs, and he said that it wasn't me," Kuzyk told court.

"He said that it was the other women, and that I'd taken the beatings for the other women who had wrecked his life."

Despite the 2013 court order to participate in the partner assault response program, despite the concerns expressed on the record by court officials in 2014 about Borutski's recidivism, the increasing seriousness of the charges against him, his lack of regard for court decisions and apparent refusal to seek help, and despite the dream heard in court about killing Warmerdam, Borutski never attended a single partner assault response session.

'Everybody was on notice'

It's troubling to Leighann Burns, executive director of the Harmony House women's shelter in Ottawa, who has been following the case.

"Everybody was on notice that this guy was really dangerous. ... What else could have been done? At what point do you start looking at, this person is a dangerous offender, or at least a long-term offender?" she said.

"Why would you continue to use those same mechanisms that clearly aren't working to try to keep these women safe? That seems, to me, to be a futile exercise. This woman's life depends on you controlling this man somehow, and you keep using the same mechanism that is clearly not working."

Leighann Burns, executive director of the Harmony House women's shelter, says the court orders meant to protect the women from Borutski are clearly not working. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Never charged for breaches

Borutski was released from jail for assaulting and choking Kuzyk on Dec. 27, 2014, bound by Justice Wilson's order to "attend and actively participate" in all assessments, counselling or rehabilitation as directed by his probation officer, and to provide proof, along with other conditions.

He was also ordered to stay away from Kuzyk but refused to sign the order prior to his release.

John Yakabuski, MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, tabled a private member's bill last year that, if passed, would make it mandatory for inmates to sign parole orders before being released and would allow electronic monitoring of the whereabouts of sexual and domestic violence offenders during parole.

And when Borutski was released after the Kuzyk offences, he was in fact still on probation for the Warmerdam offences, bound by Justice Stephen Hunter's order to attend the partner assault response program, among other conditions.

But Borutski still didn't go to the program and he was never charged for breaching that condition of his two probations.

In total, he flouted the orders for the one year, nine months and 12 days he wasn't in jail leading up to the murders.

'Confusion' over travel

About every two weeks he did show up to meetings with his probation officer in Pembroke, Caroline Royer.

At his murder trial she testified he was angry at first about wanting to go, that he eventually warmed up to her, and that "nothing ever seemed to be going right for him."

As for why he wasn't attending the program, Royer told court there was "confusion" about where Borutski was allowed to travel in the county, which was being dealt with, and that he had financial difficulties and trouble finding transportation.

As of Friday night, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services hadn't responded to questions about why Borutski was never breached, whether any changes have been made at the Pembroke probation and parole office since the murders, or whether any detailed review of the case occurred or will occur.

Lifetime weapons ban no barrier

Another issue highlighted in Borutski's case concerns weapons prohibitions and firearm sales.

After choking and assaulting Kuzyk, Borutski was banned from possessing weapons for life, and RCMP records obtained by CBC News confirm his firearm possession and acquisition licence was revoked in their system.

But the day Borutski murdered Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam, he left his wallet behind — and inside police found a firearm possession and acquisition card with an expiry date of Oct. 17, 2017.

This firearms possession and acquisition licence was found in Borutski's wallet the day of the murders. He could have used it to buy ammunition and a non-restricted firearm. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

In an emailed statement, RCMP confirmed the card could have been used to obtain a non-restricted or non-prohibited firearm, as well as ammunition.

Under current law, sellers are not obligated to confirm whether a customer's licence is valid if they're buying ammunition or non-restricted firearms. They only have to check if someone's trying to buy a restricted or prohibited firearm.

The Office of the Chief Firearms Officer or police make "every effort" to retrieve physical cards when licences are revoked, RCMP said, but that doesn't always happen.

Meagre paper trail

Before Borutski's dealings with Kuzyk, Warmerdam and Culleton, he'd been accused of assault and criminal harassment by other women.

His ex-wife Mary Ann Mask brought several charges against Borutski during her 26-year relationship with him, charges Borutski successfully fought or were dropped. A 2011 divorce filing characterized their marriage as "wretched," and the judge wrote Mask alleged "a steady regimen of domestic violence."

"Save for the first trial [in which Borutski was acquitted], the pattern that repeated itself over the years is that after reporting an assault, true or not, they would patch things up and [Mask] recanted, either before or at trial," the judge wrote.

JoAnne Brooks, executive director of the Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, says an independent body should be created to examine domestic and gender-based violence. (Steve Fischer/CBC)

JoAnne Brooks, executive director of the Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, wonders whether a new system should be created to handle cases like this.

"It just makes so much sense. We know what the patterns of violence against women are. And so, if you see that pattern, is there a mechanism within the justice system that can delve deeper into that?" she said. 

"When you have a woman who is in an abusive relationship and then recants the story, that should be the red flag ... [to say] there's bigger issues going on here."

A balancing act

But Brooks notes it would be hard to achieve in a justice system founded on the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

For her part, Burns said the rights of victims have to be considered, too.

"Absolutely innocent until proven guilty is a very important concept. But there are other Charter rights ... at play here, and the right to life, liberty and security of the person of the women who are fleeing violent men have to be considered as well," she said.

"And how do you balance that? I don't know. But surely, when someone like this — who has a repeated and escalating pattern of violence and total disregard for any of the sanctions imposed — at that moment you need to be seriously looking at, what are you going to do with this guy? And it can't just be, 'We're just gonna cross our fingers and hope for the best,' which is often what happens."

Inquest possibe

An investigation into the murders by Ontario's coroner is ongoing, according to Cheryl Mahyr, a spokesperson for the coroner's office. Now that Borutski's trial is over, the case is being handed to the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, which will investigate for several months.

Once the review is complete the file will be turned back over to the Office of the Chief Coroner for a determination about whether an inquest should be held, Mahyr said.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Status of Women wrote the ministry is "aware" of and following the Borutski case, but can't comment on it specifically because it's still before the courts.

Asked if Ontario's Roundtable on Violence Against Women has plans to look into the murders, the spokesperson wrote the roundtable will convene in the new year and its agenda hasn't been determined.

"Despite the progress that has been made, we know there is still so much work to do" to end domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence and harassment, the statement reads. Plans are underway to update the ministry's domestic violence action plan and create a new gender-based violence strategy.

For her part, Burns questions whether looking closely into Borutski's case will lead to changes in the system.

"Yes, there's value in studying these murders. But if you look at those recommendations from the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, year after year after year after year, same recommendations. At what point do we say, OK, studying without doing anything about it is not very helpful."

About the Author

Kristy Nease

Journalist

CBC Ottawa journalist Kristy Nease specializes in court reporting and police matters. Have an investigative lead? Send an email to kristy.nease@cbc.ca.