Special Report

What other provinces can learn from Ontario's 15 years studying domestic violence deaths

Saskatchewan's first domestic violence death review has yet to be released. In anticipation of it, CBC looked into how annual reviews have helped Ontario since 2003.

Ont. has created more public education about abuse, something a Sask. mom says would have helped her

A photo of Amy Bounting and her son, Camden. One of many that is displayed in her home. (Amy Bounting/Submitted to CBC)

Attitudes, policing practices, public education and the rate of domestic violence – all things that have changed in Ontario since it completed its first domestic violence death review in 2003.

Canada's second-largest province, with 12 times the population of Saskatchewan, had the lowest rate of intimate partner violence reported to police in 2015, with 226 cases per 100,000 people, according to Statistics Canada.

In 2015, Saskatchewan had the worst rate, with 666 cases per 100,000 people. The same year, the provincial government announced it would begin work on Saskatchewan's first domestic violence death review.

The final report has not yet been released, although the Ministry of Justice said it will be in the "next few months."

Risk Factors

Between 2003-2016, Ontario's Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) reviewed 289 cases involving 410 deaths.

Seventy-three per cent of the cases involved a couple with a history of domestic violence. Sixty-seven per cent of the cases involved a couple with an actual or pending separation, according to Statistics Canada.

Other top risk factors included:

  • a perpetrator who was depressed (50%)
  • obsessive behaviour by the perpetrator (47%)
  • prior threats or attempts to commit suicide (46%)  
  • a victim who had an intuitive sense of fear toward the perpetrator (43%)
  • perpetrator displayed sexual jealousy (42%)
  • prior threats to kill the victim (39%)
  • excessive alcohol and/or drug use (39%)
  • a perpetrator who was unemployed (39%)
  • history of violence outside the family (35%)
  • an escalation of violence (34%)
Dr. Peter Jaffe is a a DVDRC member and professor with the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University.
Dr. Peter Jaffe is a professor with the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University. (Submitted)

He said the group's work has raised awareness about the fact that domestic violence deaths are predictable and preventable. 

"Certainly we've seen victims seeking help earlier, rather than suffering repeated violence and more severe violence," Jaffe said.

According to 2016 data from Statistics Canada, the percentage of Ontario victims who self-reported spousal abuse has dropped from 8.4 per cent in 2004 to 3.5 per cent in 2014. 

Jaffe points to personal safety planning with victims of domestic violence and aggressive public education regarding the signs of abuse as helpful, concrete actions out of the DVDRC recommendations.

Camden Alexander Larose was six months old when he was killed. (Submitted to CBC)

More public education needed: mother

Amy Bounting said she did not know how to recognize the signs of abuse. But, nine years after her son's death, she now sees they were present.

"It hurts every year," Bounting said.

In 2009, James Larose, Bounting's husband at the time, killed their six-month-old son, Camden.

A court heard that the Lloydminster, Sask., man had been drinking heavily and was trying to change his son's diaper when the baby pooped again.

This sent Larose into a rage and, according to his own recollection, he punched the baby five times in the stomach.

I didn't want to live like that and I wanted my child to be safe ... but, in that situation, it's not easy to walk away from.- Amy Bounting

Medical experts said the blows ruptured the baby's small intestine. The injury could have been treated, but Larose did not get medical advice or check on the condition of the child.

Camden was found dead in his crib the next morning.

In April 2011, Larose was sentenced to 5.5 years for manslaughter.

Camden's death is one of 15 child homicides that informed Saskatchewan's first domestic violence death review. Read more about all 48 homicide victims here.

This case is one of 15 where problematic substance use was a known factor. Read more here.

This photo of Amy Bounting and her son, Camden, is one of many displayed in her home. (Amy Bounting/Submitted to CBC)

Bounting thinks of Camden every day. A box full of his baby photos hangs in her Lloydminster home.

"I see it every morning, when I leave for work," she said.

Each year, on the boy's birthday, Bounting said she and her family release balloons to the sky.

"It's hard because he does have a little sister now, and she asks about it a lot."​

Red flags

Bounting said that during their time together, she and Larose would hang out with a group of friends and drink. She said she did not drink heavily, but Larose often did.

"I didn't realize he had a problem because I've never been exposed to people with that kind of problem previously in my life," she said.

Bounting said about a month before Larose killed their son, there was a "red flag" when Larose became violent after a night of drinking.

"He had locked the keys in the car and then he punched the car and that night, when we got home, he punched the wall," she said.

Bounting said at this time she was dealing with postpartum depression, while making plans to leave Larose. She kept her intentions to leave secret from him.

"I didn't want to live like that and I wanted my child to be safe," she said. "But, in that situation, it's not easy to walk away from."

Amy Bounting and her family. (Amy Bounting/Submitted to CBC)

Today, Bounting has a young daughter and is engaged to be married. She hopes Saskatchewan's review of domestic violence deaths puts an emphasis on the importance of public education in recognizing the signs of abuse – something she believes would have helped her.

"It's still hard for people who are being abused, because usually the abuser has complete control over you," she said.

Risk assessment key

Jaffe said Ontario's Neighbours, Friends and Family campaign has been an effective tool to break down stigma about domestic violence and teach people what signs of abuse to look for and report.

Jaffe said another key component for Ontario is the improvement of police risk assessments.

"If you look across Canada, one of the professions that has made the most radical changes is the police," he said. "Most police services across Canada now consider risk assessment at the scene of domestic violence calls to be essential."

Sgt. Carolle Dionne is the OPP provincial media coordinator. (Sgt. Carolle Dionne/OPP)

Changes to policing

Carolline Dionne with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) said officers now have better tools to predict and prevent further violence that they bring with them to the scene of each domestic violence call.

Detailed questionnaires are used to determine whether a criminal offence has occurred and also work to identify risk factor trends in the specific case.

There's always somebody who knows something.- Carolline Dionne, Ontario Provincial Police

Dionne said questions look at whether or not there's repeated violent behaviour, anger in the home, dysfunction in the relationship, support for the victim, problematic substance use, addictions issues and weapons in the home.

She also points to Ontario's public education campaign and Bill 168 as signs of success.

"There's always somebody who knows something," she said. "It's usually a friend, a neighbour, family that has that information. They've seen signs. They've had those conversations where the victim was potentially scared or divulged something."

Dionne said previous to Ontario's first domestic violence death review in 2003, domestic violence training for officers was only available to specialized officers or upon request.

Today, all OPP recruits must complete the training. In an effort to "catch up," Dionne said officers who are already in the field must also take it, noting the OPP offers the course 25-30 times each year.

Domestic violence and Sask. police

When it comes to domestic violence training for police in Saskatchewan, the biggest policing organizations all do some level of training.

The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) offers 22 hours of basic training to recruits. It also offers a four-hour session to senior constables, focused on child custody, child access, parental abductions and family property.

When it comes to the Saskatchewan Domestic Violence Death Review, the police service said in a statement to CBC that it looks forward to seeing "what risk identifiers, prevention and intervention strategies it will yield."

Today, in general terms, the RPS is responding to about a thousand more domestic conflict-related calls for service per year than it did five years ago.- Regina Police Service

In November 2017, the Regina Police Service (RPS) announced it was making changes to its domestic violence policing practices. These changes include annual domestic violence training for frontline officers and an updated policy.

"Today, in general terms, the RPS is responding to about a thousand more domestic conflict-related calls for service per year than it did five years ago," reads a 2017 RPS news release. 

The Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) said all new recruits get domestic violence training during their initial 20-week training program.

The Saskatchewan RCMP said domestic violence training has always been part of the Cadet Training Program. (Valerie Zink/Reuters)

In 2017, the Indigenous Women's Advisory Committee was formed. Part of this group reviewed the PAPS domestic violence policy, with changes from that work coming in spring 2018.

A representative for PAPS said "it would like to see a more comprehensive provincial domestic violence strategy developed that involves all community stakeholders at the table."

The Moose Jaw Police Service (MJPS) said it conducts ongoing training for officers.

The MJPS said it has added a domestic violence coordinator to review cases and that it is developing a new interview process for related investigations. It also said it is working with the Ministry of Justice on an "advanced assessment tool to help meet the needs of victims of domestic violence."

MJPS said when it comes to SDVDR, the police service "realizes more resources need to be made available to assist police and community partners to continue to successfully manage the investigative demands."

The Saskatchewan RCMP said domestic violence training has always been part of the Cadet Training Program. As part of a 32-hour module, cadets learn about domestic violence investigations, risk assessment, victim services and the cycle of domestic violence.

According to RCMP, as of June 2017, members have been required to complete a national-level training course on domestic violence aimed at effective policing responses and increased victim safety.

Saskatchewan's Domestic Violence Courts

Regina, Saskatoon and North Battleford all have a Domestic Violence Court (DVC). Since 2005, these courts have offered a therapeutic treatment option for offenders.

Debbie Watson, Regina's Domestic Violence Court coordinator, said the DVC commonly sees cases involving assault, assault with a weapon and mischief. More extreme charges are dealt with in the regular court system. Generally, people who opt for the EVC route have committed a domestic violence-related crime, accepted responsibility for it and pleaded guilty. They are then assessed and placed in treatment.

Treatment can involve counselling and work on conflict resolution and communication.

Throughout the process, offenders do regular check-ins with the judge. Their partners may also submit updates on their progress.

We know that after they've completed a treatment program that they offend less often.- Debbie Watson, Regina's Domestic Violence Court coordinator

"We know that after they've completed a treatment program that they offend less often," Watson said. "There's fewer police calls that go out to those groups of offenders."

The Ministry of Justice said the Saskatchewan Domestic Violence Death Review's final report will be released in the next few months. Its aim is to offer recommendations that will prevent domestic violence deaths in the future.

If you have a story you'd like to share about domestic violence, contact CBC Saskatchewan here

About the Author

Madeline Kotzer

@MadelineKotzer

Madeline Kotzer is an award-winning Saskatchewan journalist and Social Media News Editor/Presenter for CBC Saskatchewan and CBC Saskatoon.