New Brunswick

Two women killed by their partners featured in new film

A short film commemorating two women from from St. Mary's First Nation who were killed by their intimate partners was launched Monday by the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research in Fredericton.

The Silent Witness Journey commemorates Rowena Sharpe and Geraldine Paul of St. Mary's First Nation

Ambyr Bartlett said the film commemorating her aunt Rowena Sharpe's life and tragic death was beautiful. She and several other family members saw it for the first time on Monday and said they hope it helps prevent other women from dying at the hands of their intimate partners. (Jon Colicott/CBC)

Emotions ran high at a documentary premiere Monday at the Wu Conference Centre in Fredericton.

The Silent Witness Journey: Two women's stories is a 10-minute film commemorating Rowena Sharpe and Geraldine Paul, two women from St. Mary's First Nation who were killed by their intimate partners.

"It made me feel like she was here again for a little bit," said Ambyr Bartlett, Rowena Sharpe's niece. 

Bartlett said her aunt's experience has had a big impact on her own life.

"It made me realize that I have no choice but to be strong. … I can never let anyone do what happened to her to anyone else, myself included."

Honouring those who died

The New Brunswick Silent Witness Project hopes to use the film to honour the 30 named silent witnesses in the province, women who were killed by their intimate partners.

"This day and the video really brings me and many other people to tears," said Lindsay Manuel, a project committee member.

"And that is OK because these women deserve our tears and our remembrance."

The film is also a way to raise awareness of the risk factors for intimate partner homicide, Manuel said.

Before a homicide

A lot has been learned about those risk factors in the last 25 years, said Neil Websdale, a keynote speaker at a day-long symposium, held in conjunction with the video launch.

"Prior history of domestic violence … a separation between the parties, acute sexual jealousy, obsessive possessiveness, suicidal ideations, drug and alcohol addiction, and generally a sort of a humiliated fury of usually the male offender, who is very compromised in life and at a low ebb ... seems to precede a killing."

Websdale, who directs the Family Violence Institute at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, said it has developed a risk assessment tool for use by police and courts. 

Lindsay Manuel thanked the victims' families for their bravery in sharing the stories of their loved ones. (Jon Collicott/CBC)

Arizona is the only state with a risk assessment approved by its state Supreme Court, said, Greg Giangobbe, another speaker at the event.

Giangobbe trains police in how to deal with victims of intimate partner violence, also at Northern Arizona University.

"We've adopted the 'nobility of policing' model," Giangobbe said.

That means being more empathetic and "trying to discern what's really happening rather than just looking at the incident they're called to," he said.

Part of healing

Some police officers were in the crowd at the event on Monday. Giangobbe said he hoped to return sometime to work with local law enforcement officers.

St. Mary's Chief Alan Polchies said he hopes the film can be part of a healing process since the deaths of Paul and Sharpe touched many lives in the close-knit community.

32 life-sized silhouettes share tragic stories of domestic violence in hopes of preventing more deaths. 12:23

The video was produced by RayneMaker Productions and co-directed by Natalie Sappier and Arthur Thomson. 

It was paid for by the Fergusson Foundation and the provincial government's Department of Public Safety and Women's Equality Branch.

It will be made available on their websites and Facebook pages.