Ottawa

Tighter supervision of high-risk abusers on probation among 72 changes pitched to inquest jury

Participants in a coroner's inquest sparked by the murders of three rural Ontario women are asking the jury to consider 72 recommendations on how to help prevent future acts of intimate partner violence

Jury to close out inquest next week with actual recommendations to Ont. gov't

From left: Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton were murdered in and around Renfrew County west of Ottawa on Sept. 22, 2015. (Photo illustration/CBC)

Participants in a coroner's inquest sparked by the murders of three rural Ontario women are asking the jury to consider 72 recommendations on how to help prevent future acts of intimate partner violence — including an emergency fund for women seeking protection from their abusers. 

"We've dubbed it the She C.A.N. Fund, and you'll recognize those initials: Carol, Anastasia and Natalie," said Kirsten Mercer, the lawyer for End Violence Against Women Renfrew County, one of the groups jointly seeking sweeping changes to prevent a repeat of what happened on Sept. 22, 2015.

A man with a known history of gender-based violence and who repeatedly defied his probation order without reprimand murdered Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam in and around Renfrew County. He was convicted of three counts of murder in a jury trial and is in prison.

Inquest jurors, who have heard from dozens of first-hand witnesses and experts pointing out systemic issues in the lead-up to the murders, are tasked with recommending changes to better protect and support survivors of intimate partner violence in rural communities.

On Friday, however, EVA Renfrew County, the Office of the Chief Coroner and Nathalie Warmerdam's daughter made their joint pitch for what they believe the jury should recommend.

"What we're asking Ontario to do is expensive, but it's critical," Prabhu Rajan, a lawyer representing the Office of the Chief Coroner, said of the proposed recommendations. 

The Ontario government said it was not taking a position on any specific ideas yet because the actual slate of recommendations will require careful study. 

The final recommendations won't be binding, but among the things the jury is being asked to consider is the creation of an oversight body to account for whether the Ontario government does act on final recommendations — and to explain why if it doesn't.

"They must happen quickly before another generation of women have to deal with the pain and suffering experienced by their mothers," Rajan said. 

Electronic monitoring 'not a panacea' 

The emergency fund for women, which would give special consideration to survivors living in rural and remote parts of the province, is not meant to tell women what their safety needs look like, Mercer said.

"But we want to take away barriers that they are encountering in making the choices that will make them and their children safer," she said. 

The joint submission proposes study on a number issues or topics that have come up during the inquest, including:

  • The dearth of adequate housing in rural communities.
  • Laws that might allow people to obtain information from police about their partner's history of abuse.
  • The requirement for police to mandatorily charge abusers. The inquest has heard that can lead women to fear further harm. 
  • Electronic monitoring of convicted abusers.

"It's not a panacea," Rajan said of electronic monitoring. "It sounds really great. But ... we need to learn about it and make sure we get something that makes sense, not just for Ontarians, but rural Ontarians."

'What happened?' with probation, lawyer asks

Several proposed recommendations are aimed at Ontario's probation and parole service, which admitted under heavy cross-examination this week that the man who murdered Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam should have been considered for intensive supervision. 

"What happened? What does supervision even mean?" Mercer said of the questions people in Renfrew County have about how the probation service monitored the man. He had been deemed a high risk to reoffend seven months before the murders and before he started stalking Culleton. 

"Improved supervision of high-risk perpetrators released on probation" is therefore called for in the joint submission. 

So is requiring probation officers to maintain regular contact with survivors — which the probation service has admitted did not happen in the case of Warmerdam and Kuzyk — and seeking their input before making decisions that might impact their safety.

The inquest has heard that Warmerdam warned the probation service the murderer got violent when drinking. But he was not referred to a substance abuse program.

He was allowed to relocate closer to Warmerdam over her objections as well as objections from police and crown attorneys.

The jury's deliberations on the final recommendations will continue Monday. 

They are free to modify or disregard any of the 72 proposed recommendations, as well as come up with their own. Each of the recommendations they do ultimately put forward must be agreed upon by at least three of the five jury members. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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