CBC Investigates

'I felt so violated': Ex-husband charged after Winnipeg woman finds hidden cameras in her home

She thought when she left her abusive ex she would finally be safe. But that illusion was shattered the day she discovered someone had broken into her Winnipeg home and installed hidden cameras in her bedroom and living area.

Images of the woman having sex were sent to relatives in Pakistan, police allege

'My sense of safety, my sense of trust is all gone,' says a Winnipeg woman who found video cameras hidden in her home. Police allege they were put there by her ex-husband, who is facing criminal charges. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

She thought when she left her abusive ex she would finally be safe. But that illusion was shattered the day she discovered someone had broken into her Winnipeg home and installed hidden cameras in her bedroom and living area.

"For a few days, I just wanted to hide inside a cupboard and not come out. I felt so violated," the woman said.

Because of a court-ordered publication ban, CBC News is not naming the people involved in the case.

The woman discovered the first camera on a Friday afternoon last April, after spotting an electrical socket facing her bed she had never noticed before.

"I was like, 'Something is off,'" she said. "Something is in that thing. So I tried taking it out, but I was so scared because I thought maybe it's a bomb. I literally thought to myself: 'He has planted a bomb and this house is going to explode. You're all going to die.'"

The woman called police, who pulled a home surveillance camera out of the bedroom wall and soon discovered another camera with a view of the main living area of the home. They also found a USB cable dangling from a hole someone had crudely cut in the exterior stucco of the house, according to search warrant documents filed in Court of Queen's Bench.

According to search warrant documents, investigators found one camera in a bedroom wall, with a clear view of the bed, and second camera in the wall of the living area. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

Winnipeg police quickly suspected the woman's ex-husband might be involved. The woman had packed up the couple's children and left him in 2016, after enduring what she describes as years of abuse that continued even after she ended the relationship.

Multiple calls to police

The woman said she has called police at least 20 times over the past two years to report concerning behaviour by her ex-husband. "I haven't felt safe in years," she said in an interview. 

Police obtained a search warrant in April for the ex-husband's Winnipeg home to look for packaging from the cameras and blue tuck tape identical to what was used to install the cameras in the woman's house. In court documents, police allege they found a fingerprint matching her ex-husband on the tape holding camera wires in place.

I can't sleep at night, knowing my videos are outside in the world.

Around the same time, the woman said she started getting frantic calls and messages from her family in the U.S. and her native Pakistan.

"They told me that his family in Pakistan has called my mom," she said. "And they're saying to her that they have videos of me having sex with a white man. And if I don't go to the [Winnipeg] police station to tell police that the cameras are a prank, they're going to release those videos on social media."

Her ex's family also went a step further, she said. "They tell my mom the positions that I've had sex, who I've had sex with, where was I on my birthday weekend — [that] I should be stoned to death for committing adultery," she said.

The woman said she immediately contacted the police once more.

'My sense of safety, my sense of trust is all gone,' says a Winnipeg woman who found video cameras hidden in her home. 3:39

Criminal charges laid

Her ex-husband was arrested on April 15. He is currently in jail awaiting trial on six charges, including break and enter, voyeurism, and distributing intimate images without consent. 

Through his lawyer, he declined comment.

The allegations have not been proven in court. A trial date is set for February 2019.

"I was in my house, minding my own business," the woman said. "How dare he violate my privacy in Canada, violate the place of my residence … where my kids sleep and go to bed. How did he do that to me?"

Police also allege a cable attached to a video camera had been fed through the outer wall of the home, through this drilled hole. (Submitted photo)

In addition to sending intimate images and videos of her to his family, she worries her ex-husband also showed those images to people in Winnipeg.

There's no "magic wand," she said, to make sure those images are deleted from his family's laptops or phones. "But I need that to happen, to make sure that my respect is intact. I didn't do anything wrong."

She's now seeking help from police in trying to prevent further distribution of the images. 

RCMP, Interpol can help — if asked

RCMP and Interpol could help with that task, but first need to be asked by the Winnipeg Police Service to be involved in the case. (Through its relationship with Interpol, RCMP can work with numerous police forces in Pakistan to investigate criminal matters.)

The Winnipeg Police Service is "exploring all options" to help the woman track down and remove the suspected intimate images, Insp. Kelly Dennison said in a statement.

But as of last week, the woman said she was frustrated with what she sees as a lack of action by police.

The internet is "nobody's jurisdiction," she said, calling for a better system for authorities to act quickly if intimate images are shared across international borders.

"People need to act fast … because if it's one click away, I don't know how many times they've shared it in Pakistan," she said. "I can't sleep at night, knowing my videos are outside in the world.

"I have this constant feeling that someone's watching me," she added. "My sense of safety, my sense of trust is all gone … I don't know how much he recorded, how much he has."

'Quit calling' police

A few months before discovering the cameras hidden in her home, the woman said she heard from a friend in Winnipeg that her ex-husband was asking about her — her whereabouts, who she was dating, where she was employed.

Because of their history, the development made her fearful, she said, so she reported it to police. The woman says she was brushed off. "The police officer actually told me that I should quit calling the police force," she said.

(A complaint was filed, but Dennison said he's not in a position to comment on an internal discipline matter.)

Family violence needs to be taken seriously, says Marcie Wood, the interim executive director of Willow Place, Manitoba's largest women's shelter.

While Wood wouldn't comment on this specific case, her advice to women who may be experiencing an escalation of behaviour by an ex-partner is to "continue to call" police.

Women facing problems with an ex should also seek help through a crisis line and develop a protection plan, Wood said.

Women facing problems with an ex-partner should seek help through a crisis line and develop a protection plan, says Marcie Wood, interim executive director of Willow Place, Manitoba's largest women's shelter. (John Einarson/CBC)

"We believe that domestic violence, family violence, has a huge impact in our society. But it's one that's not recognized," she said. "It kind of continues to fly under the radar, if you will, in terms of not really being understood as ... impacting our community in so many different ways." 

Last year, Winnipeg police responded to more than 16,000 calls related to domestic violence, averaging about 45 calls a day. The annual statistical report shows charges were laid in 13 per cent of cases.

Last June, the woman's ex-husband went to trial on charges of assault, sexual assault, utter threats, and forcible confinement, arising from a previous complaint she made to police. He was acquitted on three charges and the others were stayed.

At Manitoba's largest women's shelter, interim executive director Marcie Wood explains how women can get help to deal with the risk of harm from a former partner when a relationship is over. 3:22

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