Montreal

Mother found dead in Pointe-aux-Trembles came to Canada to pursue her dreams, family says

Relatives of Dahia Khellaf are in shock after the 42-year-old mother and one-time music teacher, originally from Algeria, was found dead in her east-end Montreal home Wednesday, along with her sons Askil, two, and Adam, four.

Dahia Khellaf's husband had just signed a peace bond, agreeing not to contact his wife for a year

Dahia Khellaf and her two young sons were killed by her former partner a week after he signed a peace bond, agreeing to stay away from her. (Facebook/Dahia Khellaf)

"The whole family loved Dahia."

Dahia Khellaf's cousin, Ibrahim Douak, along with her mother, aunt and other relatives, are in shock to have learned the 42-year-old Montreal woman, originally from Algeria, was found dead Wednesday, along with her two young sons.

Police discovered the bodies of Khellaf and her sons Askil, two, and Adam, four, early Wednesday when officers went to their home in the east-end Montreal neighbourhood of Pointe-aux-Trembles to tell Khellaf her estranged husband was dead.

When no one answered the door, they entered the house.

Khellaf's husband and the boys' father, Nabil Yssaad, 46, had killed himself in Joliette, 50 kilometres north of the family home, a day before.

Khellaf's mother in Algeria is grief-stricken, Douack told Radio-Canada in a Skype interview from his home in the Algerian city of Batna — in such a state of shock that she is in hospital. 

His cousin left Algeria for Canada to pursue her passion for music, Douack said. 

"To fulfil your dreams in Algeria, it's not easy," he said. "But abroad — anything is possible."

Khellaf had been a middle-school music teacher in Algeria, her friend Madem Mehdi Merabet told CBC News. 

"She was very happy with her family, with her two children," said Mehdi Merabet, who described Khellaf as a kind and loving mother.

Neighbours, however, told CBC News they had in recent months seen police cars outside the family home.

Autopsies conducted Thursday will help determine the cause of the deaths of Khellaf and her children, as well as when they died. Police are calling the deaths suspicious and have not ruled out the possibility of a triple homicide.

A neighbour placed a stuffed animal outside the home of Dahia Khellaf, who was found dead with her two young children on Wednesday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Yssaad, 46, was charged with two counts of assault against Khellaf in connection to two separate incidents in August 2018. He was acquitted last week.

At the time of his acquittal, he had signed a peace bond that included an order not to enter into contact with Khellaf for 12 months.

Is a peace bond enough?

Crown prosecutor Christopher Hadjis-Chartrand said a peace bond requires the person who signed it to follow the law and any terms set out by the court. But it carries no admission of guilt.

"They're used when the prosecution doesn't have enough evidence to bring forward a case beyond a reasonable doubt. Or, alternatively, they're used in a setting where alternative measures have been at play, therapies or otherwise and that the complainant feels comfortable with these protections," he said. 

Andrea Pessoa, vice-president of Women Aware, a support group for victims of domestic violence, said she has seen cases where peace bonds work.

However, she said, she doesn't think they should be applied in every case — especially when there are charges of violent crimes.

"How can you make a friendly agreement with somebody that has demonstrated already that [they want] to cause your death?" asked Pessoa, herself a survivor of domestic violence.

A note affixed to a stuffed animal placed outside the victims' home is addressed to Adam, the eldest of the two boys. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Melpa Kamateros, executive director of Shield of Athena, another shelter and resource centre for victims of family violence, said the expectation is that a peace bond will limit violent actions.

"In the work that we do, we have not seen this to be the case. In some cases it does result in the partner breaking the conditions, and the whole procedure has to start again."

She said the onus is usually on the victim to enforce a peace bond by calling the police if the conditions are broken.

Check in, offer help

Pessoa said people should not be afraid to check in on someone who may need help.

"It is very serious to think that people hear things, see things, but decide to keep quiet in order to respect that taboo."

Pessoa said someone who feels threatened by their partner or ex-partner should consider going to a shelter. As a society, we have to work on removing the stigma of seeking out help at a shelter, she said.

Manon Monastesse, the director of Quebec's federation of women's shelters, told Radio-Canada's 24/60 that women can call shelters even if they don't need lodging.

She said shelters have methods they use to determine the level of danger in a situation and offer tools for police officers to use as well.

Manon Monastesse says police officers don't always use the federation's tip sheet to help them assess the level of risk in suspected conjugal violence cases. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Montreal police say they receive more than 15,000 calls a year in relation to domestic violence, and account for roughly 15 per cent of all homicides.

A woman or girl was killed every 2.5 days on average in Canada last year, according to a report released earlier this year.

The report said 148 women and girls were killed in 133 incidents in 2018, with 140 people accused in their deaths. More than 90 per cent of those accused were men.

Kamateros said the provincial government has to look at how the network of services and legislation in place serves the most vulnerable clientele, then come up with recommendations that can plug the gaps.

With files from Kate McKenna, Alison Northcott, CBC Montreal's Daybreak and Radio-Canada

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