New Brunswick

Reach out to suspected victims of domestic violence, expert urges

As Cindy McCormick's loved ones gather in Saint John today for a private funeral for the dentist killed in Alberta, the head of a family crisis centre is encouraging anyone who suspects domestic violence to reach out to the victim.

Saint John murder victim Cindy McCormick mourned

Kristal LeBlanc, executive director of the Beauséjour Family Crisis Resource Centre, said friends of suspected victims of domestic abuse can ask outreach workers for suggestions on how to broach the difficult issue. (CBC)

As Cindy McCormick's loved ones gather in Saint John today for a private funeral for the popular dentist killed in Alberta in an apparent murder-suicide, the head of a family crisis centre is encouraging anyone who suspects domestic violence to reach out to the victim.

"I think it's important to have an ongoing dialogue and to be very gentle about it," said Kristal LeBlanc, executive director of the Beauséjour Family Crisis Resource Centre in Shediac.

It's also important for "male allies" to speak out when they witness misogynistic behaviour, she said.

"We want it to be the norm that somebody speaks up and says, 'This isn't OK,' and it's still kind of the exception."

Raising awareness about the societal problem and teaching schoolchildren about healthy and unhealthy relationships could help, she said.

McCormick's body was discovered at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on Oct. 22 around 2:40 p.m. after the police were called to check on the welfare of the occupant of the room.

The 46-year-old mother to two had been attending a dental conference at the hotel and her boyfriend Saint John firefighter Robert (Bobby) Kaine, 52, had accompanied her.

Kaine's body was found around noon the same day in a vehicle west of Lake Louise on Emerald Lake Road, near the Alberta-B.C. border. His death was described as "non-criminal" and RCMP closed their investigation into McCormick's murder on Oct. 27.

The murder of Saint John dentist Cindy McCormick, 46, and the death of her firefighter partner Robert (Bobby) Kaine, 52, are no longer being investigated. (Bayside Dental Clinic/IAFF Local 771)

McCormick's friend, Jennifer Gordon, told CBC News last week that in retrospect, there were warning signs that all was not well in the relationship.

"I will never not speak out again," Gordon had said. "I will never stay silent."

LeBlanc said it's common after murder-suicides or domestic homicides for friends and loved ones to feel they should have done something.

"I really felt bad for [Gordon] because it is easier said than done, and I think that she probably did the best that she could."

More than physical signs

The best approach, said LeBlanc, is to talk to the victim about her relationship, ask whether it's what she wants it to be, and to point out small things that could be red flags.

Although many people still tend to think of those as being bruises or cuts, domestic violence is not just physical abuse, stressed LeBlanc.

What [the victim] really needs from [a friend] is to believe her and to listen and to stay her friend, despite the fact that you may not agree with her choice to stay in the relationship.- Kristal LeBlanc, Beauséjour Family Crisis Resource Centre

"I think what we need to look for is power and control," she said.

Examples could include an abuser telling a woman how to dress or wear her hair, and limiting her ability to talk to family and friends on the phone or to spend time with them.

"That's why it's so important that we say something at the time because as the relationship progresses, she will be more and more isolated."

There are 14 domestic violence outreach workers across New Brunswick who can offer tips on what to say and what to do, said LeBlanc.

The woman might initially deny anything is wrong, but it's not necessarily denial, said LeBlanc.

"I think it can be very confusing to a victim because there are times when the relationship is healthy," she said.

"I think we need to stop looking at [the abuser] as, you know, this horrible demon and the fact that it is very much like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and there are times where the relationship is probably OK. I just think that maybe she may cling onto those times and downplay the times that they're not OK.

"Everybody wants to be happy and they want to be loved and they want to have that significant other that they can count on, and I think that the biggest challenge is that they very much still love the person. It's the behaviour that they wish would stop."

Women, on average, leave an abusive partner seven or eight times before they leave for good, LeBlanc said.

"So what [the victim] really needs from [a friend] is to believe her and to listen and to stay her friend, despite the fact that you may not agree with her choice to stay in the relationship."

Have a plan

When a victim is ready to leave, it's important to ensure she has a plan to do so safely, said LeBlanc, noting that's when women are at a much higher risk of domestic homicide or murder-suicide because the perpetrator realizes he's lost ultimate control.

"Decisions start to escalate and he'll start to do anything — almost, 'If I can't have her, then no one else will.'"

Local domestic violence outreach workers will work with the woman, a transition house and the RCMP to formulate an escape, usually when the abuser is at work or out of town, said LeBlanc.

Once the woman is safe, officials can then look into any mental health issues the abuser might be suffering from, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

"It's not that we don't care about him," said LeBlanc. "We just have to ensure her safety.

"What we don't want to happen is, it's almost as if the mental illness explains away the nature of domestic violence in this province. It is still a conversation about gender and equality and power and control, and so we need to make sure that that's still being highlighted."

McCormick's memorial service was scheduled to be held at River Cross Church in Saint John at 1 p.m., followed by a private family interment at Fernhill Cemetery.

A public candle light vigil celebrating McCormick's life will be held in Baxters Corner on Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m., along Sands Road, just off Route 820.

About 50 people have responded to the Facebook event created on Saturday, saying they plan to attend, while 57 people have said they're interested.

With files from Information Morning Moncton

now