Sask. government accepts 19 recommendations in domestic violence report but won't commit to extensive reviews

A long-awaited Saskatchewan Domestic Violence Death Review Report was released today. It's the first review of its kind for Saskatchewan, which has the highest rate of domestic violence of all the provinces.

Saskatchewan's 1st domestic violence report says every death should be officially reviewed

On Thursday, Saskatchewan's first-ever domestic death review was released. (CBC)

Every domestic homicide case in Saskatchewan should be reviewed, according to a final report that recommends how future deaths could be prevented.

On Thursday, the long-awaited Saskatchewan Domestic Violence Death Review Report was released. It's the first review of its kind for Saskatchewan, which has the highest rate of domestic violence of all the provinces.

Saskatchewan Minister of Justice Don Morgan said the government accepts the 19 recommendations and has been working on addressing some aspects of them already.

"What we are going to do is add an additional person in the office of the Status of Women and have that person oversee the implementation of the recommendations," Morgan said.

A 13-person panel comprised of people from of social services, police, justice, and victim service were tasked with reviewing six cases of domestic homicide between 2005 and 2014.

Many deaths preventable

The panel examined the risk factors present in each of the cases, with escalation of violence being the main commonality. 

"Identification of the risk factors combined with the basic information provided to the Panel shows that many domestic violence deaths can be predicted and could be prevented."

The report contains a series of recommendations in areas such as education and awareness and intervention. 

"The panel feels strongly that an integrated comprehensive process must be implemented across government and community to reduce incidents of domestic violence and abuse, prevent future domestic violence deaths, and interrupt the impact of intergenerational violence," it says.

"While some of these recommendations may be viewed as cost generating they should be seen as an investment in the future."

Jo-anne Dusel of the organization PATHS was on the panel tasked with reviewing six domestic violence deaths in Saskatchewan. She says it will be up to the provincial government to accept the group's recommendations. (CBC News)

Families not interviewed

Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS), was among the panelists. 

She said the panel did not interview family members of domestic homicide victims, which was a decision made not by the group itself, but a separate advisory committee.

"The reason was to prevent retraumatizing the families by having them retell the stories again," she said. 

More education, programming, new call number

In terms of the panel's recommendations, Dusel said it strongly believes in public education around domestic violence  that spans from "cradle to grave" including being taught within the school system. 

"We need people to know from a very young age what healthy relationships look like, what they're not like and how to seek help if you're in an unhealthy relationship."

Included in the 19 recommendations are:

  • Develop a "comprehensive" education program whereby information could be provided to K-12 students and anyone applying for marriage licenses. The report states: "The program should define what is meant by domestic violence and ensure understanding that it is not only physical or chargeable acts, but often involves other forms."
  • Create first responder teams "with expertise in domestic violence."
  • Implement domestic violence programming for families, victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.
  • Develop a provincial call centre line for information and support for victims of domestic violence.
  • Develop new protocols for front line workers in hospitals dealing with incidents of domestic violence to encourage better information sharing.

The report also included observations about the death review process.

Reviews should continue

"Every domestic violence death case should be reviewed using this process," the report reads, explaining such a review should be legislated.

"This would enable a unit in the Ministry of Justice to be assigned the mandate through legislation or other means to receive the required information in all domestic violence death cases to enable a timely review of the case,' it states.

It also says consideration should be given to expanding the review to include suicide deaths related to domestic violence.

Government accepts recommendations, won't commit to extensive reviews 

The province said it will continue to explore introducing "Clare's Law" which is a domestic violence disclosure process.

It is also hiring two additional crisis workers, one in northern Saskatchewan and the second in the rural south. And finally it will expand programming to children, including through education and support for kids exposed to domestic violence.

When asked about making the death review panel permanent, Morgan said it would not be practical because the members all have their existing work in their given fields but he said the province will monitor domestic homicides going forward.

"We want to have the ministry look at and continue to compile the statistics and work with the families that are affected to try and make sure that as much as is appropriate can be made public so we can try and change the psyche in the province and to get people to understand, what's taking place now cannot continue," Morgan said.

NDP justice critic Nicole Sarauer said the province should be investing in the panel as an "oversight committee" outside the umbrella of the Ministry of Justice. She said the panel's work should continue.

"(The panel) has expertise in all of the areas that this crisis touches and is monitoring the deaths that are occurring, providing recommendations but also following up with the ministry to ensure that those recommendations are followed," Sarauer said. 

Sarauer renewed her party's call to give victims of domestic violence five paid days off and up to 17 unpaid weeks off of work.

The province currently allows for 10 unpaid days.

CBC Saskatchewan would like to learn more about the life of each the people whose 48 homicides informed Saskatchewan's first domestic violence death review. Contact us here.

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