Advocates demand action against domestic violence following Borutski verdict

Women's advocates are demanding less rhetoric and more action against domestic violence after Basil Borutski was convicted Friday of killing three of his former partners in a single day in September 2015.

Basil Borutski convicted Friday in Sept. 2015 deaths of three former partners

Help women before it's too late, says shelter director 2:09

​Women's advocates are demanding less rhetoric and more action against domestic violence after Basil Borutski was convicted Friday of killing three of his former partners in a single day in September 2015.

The jury returned the guilty verdicts on two counts of first-degree and one count of second-degree murder Friday afternoon, after nearly 14 hours of deliberation spread out over three days.

Borutski was found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of 36-year-old Anastasia Kuzyk, who was shot to death at her home in Wilno, Ont., and 48-year-old Nathalie Warmerdam, who was also shot to death at her home near Eganville, Ont.

He was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Carol Culleton, 66, who was strangled to death at her cottage near Combermere, Ont.

His sentencing is expected to take place over two days in December at the courthouse in Pembroke, Ont.

The bodies of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton were found at three separate locations near Wilno, Ont., on Sept. 22, 2015. (CBC News)

Call for an inquest

JoAnne Brooks, executive director of the Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, said the end of the trial has brought a mix of relief and and dismay.

"I would imagine there is some disappointment on some level that there are not three first-degree murder convictions," Brooks said.

Brooks organized a vigil for the three women in Eganville ahead of the trial. Her organization also offered support for people who were following the difficult court process.

She will also be helping to write a community impact statement that will be read at Borutski's sentencing hearing.

With the verdict decided, Brooks said she now wants answers to the questions raised during the trial — for instance, why Borutski had a firearm and why was he allowed to skip out on a partner abuse response program when he had a history of abusive behaviour.

"The hope is that there would be an inquest that would look into some of the systems — the criminal justice system, how can we strengthen that? How can we prevent this kind of mass femicide in the future?" 

Basil Borutski was convicted on Nov. 24, 2017, of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in the September 2015 deaths of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton. (Sketch by Laurie Foster-MacLeod)

'What does that say about the system?'

The revelations during the trial are a "condemnation" of how the province and the country deals with repeated allegations of domestic violence​, said Leighann Burns, executive director of Harmony House, an Ottawa-based women's shelter.

"If we couldn't stop somebody who was so visible and so dangerous, really, what does that say about this system at all?" Burns told reporters outside the Ottawa courthouse, shortly after Friday's verdict was delivered.

"These women were clearly living in fear. It was known that he posed a real risk to them."

We have to be more concerned about keeping women and children alive than prosecuting their offenders once they've killed them.- Leighann Burns

During the trial, jurors heard that Borutski had been convicted of assaulting and attempting to choke Kuzyk the year before she was killed.

At the time of that assault, Borutski was on probation for offences against Warmerdam, including threatening to kill her dog and harm her son.

Part of that probation involved an order to participate in a domestic violence response program, but he never attended a single session.

Court also heard that Warmerdam slept with a shotgun under her bed, had surveillance cameras installed on her property, and possessed a panic alarm issued to survivors of domestic violence.

Burns said that Borutski's potential for violence was clearly visible to everyone involved in those cases, and asked whether the justice system did enough to contain that danger.

She called for an end to the "rhetoric about violence against women" and the beginning of concrete action.

"Starting tomorrow, what are we going to do to make things different for all the other women that come forward and disclose the violence in their lives? How will we keep them safe? How will we keep them alive?" Burns said.

"We have to be more concerned about keeping women and children alive than prosecuting their offenders once they've killed them."

'Patchwork of services'

In a statement, advocacy group Because Wilno said that the three women Borutski murdered were "unfairly" asked to bear the burden of keeping themselves safe — while Borutski received lenient treatment at the hands of the justice system.

The group called upon federal, provincial and municipal leaders to improve the "the patchwork of services
meant to intervene when violence occurs."

"We come too late to this conversation to save Carol, Anastasia and Nathalie. We are too late to save thousands of others whose deaths were written off as isolated incidents," the group said.

"But there are still many of us who have failed to navigate a broken system, who try live productive lives while
constantly looking over our shoulder."

Brief police statement

Ontario Provincial Police Insp. Mark Zulinski issued a brief statement outside court Friday, offering friends and family of the three women his sympathies and his hope they could continue to heal.

However, he refused to answer any questions about whether the justice system could have handled the accusations against Borutski differently.

"That's all the comments we have at this point," Zulinski said.