Manitoba

'Nasty month' for domestic violence in Manitoba, women's shelter head says

The head of a provincial association for women's shelters says this domestic abuse awareness month has started off on a heavy note after a three-year-old Winnipeg boy was allegedly killed by his mother's former partner.

Manitoba Association of Women's Shelters wants people to be aware amid high-profile family violence case

Clarice Smith, Hunter Straight-Smith's mother, lost her only son in a brutal stabbing last week. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The head of a provincial association for women's shelters says this domestic abuse awareness month has started off on a particularly heavy note after a three-year-old Winnipeg boy was allegedly killed by his mother's former partner.

"It's been a nasty month so far and it's only just started," said Deena Brock, the provincial co-ordinator for the Manitoba Association of Women's Shelters.

She said calls to the crisis hotline and shelter use are both still high in the province.

MAWS helps thousands of people every year, Brock said. In 2019, the crisis line was called 16,792 times, and the shelter was used 49,031 times, including for women, men and children who experienced family violence.

"Provincially, what we're seeing is that the domestic abuse and family violence is not decreasing at all. We're still getting a tremendous number of calls requesting assistance or help in some manner," she said.

In 2017, close to one-third of all police-reported victims in Canada were victims of intimate partner violence, according to Statistics Canada. In addition, the rate of intimate partner violence rose one per cent from 2016 to 2017.

Sometimes that violence affects children, Brock said.

Hunter Straight-Smith died on Saturday after he was taken off life support. (Submitted by family)

Last week, three-year-old Hunter Straight-Smith was stabbed multiple times — allegedly by his mother's boyfriend — while sleeping in his Winnipeg home. He was taken off life support and died Saturday.

Daniel Jensen, 33, has been charged with attempted murder and assault causing bodily harm, as well as six counts of failing to comply with conditions of a recognizance and failing to comply with a probation order.

Police said Jensen, who is not the child's biological father, was with Smith — his on-again, off-again girlfriend — at a location on Main Street when they got into an argument that escalated into a violent assault.

Smith suffered a number of injuries from that incident, police said.

From there, police say Jensen walked to the home a few blocks away on Pritchard Avenue, between Salter and Charles streets, and attacked Hunter.

According to court records, Jensen was charged in July with assault with a weapon and uttering threats against Smith.

Although none of these recent charges have been tested in court, Brock says this could be an extreme example of a common issue.

Power and control

"This is a very unfortunate, but typical case of domestic violence. Men will try to control or make a female work or do what they want, and if the woman is not doing what they want, they'll reach out in some manner to make them kowtow to them and what it is they're wanting," she said.

"It happens a lot."

Brock said it's all about power and control. Sometimes partners will take children or pets away from the person they're abusing, but she rarely sees extreme violence against children. This month, the association is trying to raise awareness about their hotline.

"Anybody can call that number for information, advice, referrals or just somebody to talk to if something's happening and you're really not sure if this is normal. You can call and talk to a counsellor and they can help you with that," Brock said.

The crisis line number is 204-623-5497. The toll free number to connect to the closest shelter is 1-877-977-0007.