NL·CBC Investigates

Atlantic Domestic Homicide Review Network marks 1 year. What's been done so far?

Advocates have differing opinions on death review committees, like the one struck to oversee domestic homicides in Atlantic Canada.

'This is life-saving information,' says P.E.I. advocate; others call for quicker action

The Atlantic Domestic Homicide Review Network, established in late 2020, aims to analyze data that will help prevent further deaths. (Dave Irish/CBC)

Courtney Clarke remembers sitting at a roundtable discussion on domestic violence last year, when a colleague of a different group said something Clarke was also thinking: "Why are we even here?"

Clarke, chair of the Newfoundland group Violence Prevention Avalon East, says government inaction on issues of intimate-partner violence has led her to look at the Atlantic Domestic Homicide Review Network with a bit of pessimism. 

"All of this funding and time seems to be being spent finding out the why, but we know the why," Clarke said during a recent interview.

"So let's put the time and resources into how to stop it."

It's been a year since all four of the Atlantic provinces announced they had officially joined forces to collect and analyze information related to domestic homicides in the region.

The aim is to improve understanding of circumstances leading up to a person's death and by doing so, avoid such deaths in the future. 

"By identifying common issues and best practices across our region, we can promote better interventions and responses for all Atlantic Canadians," said an emailed statement sent on behalf of the network. 

CBC News asked to speak with a member of the network to discuss what work has been done to date, but those requests were declined.

'This is life-saving information'

The group comprises members representing each province who will work over a three-year term. In Newfoundland and Labrador, for instance, representatives come from different government departments, as well as the province's chief medical examiner's office. 

Over the last year, the network has met three times. According to the emailed statement, it has ratified terms of reference, exchanged information on how each province collects information on domestic homicide, received funding, and provided training to its members.

After three years, the group could make recommendations to better protect vulnerable people at risk of domestic homicide.

Courtney Clarke, chair of Violence Prevention Avalon East, says reviewing risk factors and data pertaining to domestic homicides won't provide any additional insight. (Zoom)

Jane Ledwell, director of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women, had been advocating for such a network for more than a decade. 

"The information is invaluable. It tells us what we can inform systems, what we can tell police, what we can tell justice officials, health officials, doctors, [and tell them] what to look for, what we can tell neighbours and friends and family to look for in terms of risk factors for domestic homicide," Ledwell said.

"This is life-saving information."

Ledwell says you don't need to look far to see the success of networks like the one created in Atlantic Canada. 

The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee was established in 2003 following two major inquests into domestic homicides in the province, and makes regular recommendations.

"We know the value and the quality of information that comes out of death reviews in Ontario. We know that if we can look at some of the factors that may be specific or may be slightly different to P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, we could take those learnings and apply them to ongoing prevention work."

'Bureaucratic and hindsight measures'

Ardath Whynacht, a professor of sociology at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., says the proliferation of death review committees without political will is tragic.

"We can identify gaps in service all day long but if we don't fund those gaps in service with the really great data we've already had for 20 years, I don't really see the purpose in continuing to engage in these bureaucratic and hindsight measures," Whynacht said.

To further the network's research, she suggests broadening the scope to include all other services victims of intimate-partner violence interact with — like social services, child welfare and police.

A deep dive into the family background of perpetrators is also necessary in identifying issues before homicides happen, she said. 

"If we look at the life history of Marc Lépine, the Montreal massacre shooter, and the Portapique shooter, for example, we see a lot of similarity in their family history," Whynacht said.

"If their families were given comprehensive family support services when they were youth it's very unlikely that they would have grown up to take the lives that they did take."

Ardath Whynacht, a professor of sociology at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., and author of Insurgent Love: Abolition and Domestic Homicide, says for death review committees to be effective, there has to be political will. (Zoom)

Like Whynacht, Clarke sees little need to wait for additional data on what's widely considered the most preventable and predictable type of homicide. 

She's renewing her call for the Newfoundland and Labrador government to create a gender-based task force to begin work with the information they already have. 

"It would be the same setup, similar time, similar resources but we'd actually be out on the ground doing the things we've been talking about with governments over the last few years."

What's next?

New Brunswick has had a domestic violence death review committee since 2009, and has been reviewing cases since 2010.

The Nova Scotia government recently established its own domestic violence review committee and child death review committee.

Neither Prince Edward Island nor Newfoundland and Labrador have a domestic violence review committee.

At a ceremony at the the Manitoba Legislature on Dec. 6, candles were lit next to the portraits of the women slain on Dec. 6, 1989, at Montreal's École Polytechnique. (City pool)

That could be slowing down work on the issue in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Nash Denic, the province's chief medical examiner, said his office does not yet have the legislative power to collect and share data with the network. 

Denic said his office is working with the Department of Justice and Public Safety to make necessary changes, including the creation of a provincial committee for domestic homicide review.

Meanwhile, the network says it will work over the next three years with the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability to do research, like reviewing homicide cases, and examining how they compare among the Atlantic provinces. 

Based on those findings, the network says recommendations may be made to "enhance data collection processes, investigations of domestic homicides across Atlantic Canada, and system responses to domestic violence that may help prevent homicides."

The story is part of a project called Deadly Relationships, the result of a 16-month CBC investigation compiling and analyzing intimate partner homicides across Canada between January 2015 and June 2020. At least 22 of those cases were in Atlantic Canada.

Support is available for anyone affected by intimate-partner violence. You can access support services and local resources in Canada by visiting this website. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit. Email: