'There's still rage': Advocates remember Wilno killings, demand action

People gathered in Ottawa to remember the deaths of Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton, and demand the justice system do more to stop domestic violence.

'Renfrew County has not gotten the attention it deserves. Nobody is talking about it'

Jean Maves and Esther Gaudet hold candles and signs in memory of three women who were killed in or near Wilno, Ont., on Sept. 22, 2015. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

When more than a dozen people gathered in Ottawa to remember the victims of one of Canada's worst-ever cases of multiple-partner violence, they lit candles, laid down roses and demanded answers.

On Sept. 22, 2015, Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton were killed — each of their bodies found in separate locations in or near Wilno, Ont.

Basil Borutski, who had previous relationships with both Warmerdam and Kuzyk, was later charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

JoAnne Brooks says the deaths of Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk, Carol Culleton 'rocked us all to the core.' (Elyse Skura/CBC)

Many of the women at Tuesday's memorial had gathered together on that day as well.

The local Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County had organized a Take Back the Night walk and as police put the surrounding communities on notice, out-of-town participants were still making their way there.

"Our centre was in lock down because he was coming to Pembroke," recalled JoAnne Brooks, who has worked with the group for 25 years. "It became very real."

"[It] rocked us all to the core."

Women shouldn't live in fear, says advocate

While local organizers were preparing for Take Back the Night, Julie Lalonde was preparing herself on that day in September. 

A well-known advocate for victims of domestic violence in Ottawa, this was to be the first time she spoke publicly about her own, personal experience. Just a few weeks before Sept. 22, she said the man who abused her died in a car accident.

After 10 years, Lalonde felt free to speak about the stalker who made her fear for her life. Instead, when she arrived in Renfrew County, she was hurriedly rushed inside. 

Yami Msosa and Julie Lalonde address a small crowd at Ottawa's Human Rights Monument on Tuesday. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

"Our first assumption was someone went AWOL," she said, noting Pembroke's proximity to Petawawa, home to one of Canada's largest military bases. "Then we heard that there was more than one victim, and they were women."

At that point, the assembled women assumed it was a terrible instance of domestic violence. 

"Why is it that when women die, right away we can draw a conclusion as to how it happened," she said, posing a rhetorical question. 

"Why is it that these women live in fear of this man and could have told you 'if I wind up dead, I know exactly who to call?'"

Pretrial underway

The group met in Ottawa, a stone's throw from the courthouse, because pretrial motions are being heard there. The details of those proceedings are under a publication ban.

They say less than two years later, people have already forgotten that day.

"Renfrew County has not gotten the attention it deserves," said Lalonde. "Nobody's talking about what happened in Wilno. Nobody is talking about it."

'Nobody's talking about what happened in Wilno'

5 years ago
Duration 1:18
More than a dozen people laid flowers and lit candles Tuesday in an effort to keep the memory of Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton alive.

"There's still rage in that community," she added.

The killings, while horrific, are only one example of an immense Canadian issue, said Brooks.

"We need to take domestic, intimate partner violence more seriously at the early stages," she added, paraphrasing University of Ottawa professor Elizabeth Sheehy. "Feminists are still counting the bodies — and we have to if we are to save women's lives."

Calls for more education on issue

Brooks suggests one way to start tackling the complex issue: more education for judges, lawyers and the general public. 

At the end of the gathering, people lit three lanterns, one for each of the slain women, and laid down long-stem roses during a moment of silence. 

"The day will come," Jean Maves, a childhood teacher of Warmerdam, quietly said, leaning to Lalonde.

"The day will come."

People lit three lanterns in honour of Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton. (Elyse Skura/CBC)