Saskatchewan's domestic homicide review doesn't go far enough, says victim's sister

The sister of a Saskatchewan woman who was killed in her home says the province's review of fatal domestic violence cases is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough.

'I would urge them to look at a lot more cases — ideally, every case,' says Mariann Rich

Mariann Rich, the sister of Saskatchewan domestic homicide victim Shirley Parkinson, says the provincial government should review every case of domestic homicide between the years 2005 and 2014. (CBC)

The sister of a Saskatchewan woman who was killed in her home says the province's review of fatal domestic violence cases is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough.

"I would urge them to look at a lot more cases — ideally, every case, because every case is different," said Mariann Rich on Thursday.

Rich's comments come as the Saskatchewan government continues an in-depth review of a portion of the cases between 2004 and 2015 in which 48 people died in domestic homicide incidents.

"There are going to be some similarities, but to get to the depths of this complex issue, it means looking at every case, not just a few," said Rich.

Rich's sister Shirley Parkinson was bludgeoned to death in her sleep by her husband of 27 years, Donald Parkinson, on their farm near Unity, Sask., in 2014.

The province's six-member domestic violence death review panel, announced last year, was tasked with identifying common themes and patterns in cases.

But Rich says a close look at every case of domestic homicide in Saskatchewan is needed if the government wants to make a difference.

"The truth is this could be anybody. Anybody's significant other or past significant other has the potential to take the life of their loved or ex-loved one.

"That's the part that scares me about creating criteria and departments," said Rich. "We start to go, 'Well, it couldn't happen to me.'"

Numbers 'a little bit surprising': minister

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice released an interim report on victims of domestic homicide in the province on Thursday.

Between 2005 and 2014, 48 people were killed in domestic homicides and nine perpetrators took their own lives, for a total of 57 deaths.

"The numbers were a little bit surprising," said Justice Minister Gordon Wyant. "What they show is we have a significant problem with domestic violence with respect to not only interpersonal violence, but domestic homicide."

Of the perpetrators, 32 were men and 14 were women.

The victims include 25 females and 23 males, many of whom were children. Nine boys under the age of three were victims and five girls under the age of 10 were killed.

Wyant said keeping children safe is a priority.

"We know that there have been some children that have been victims of domestic violence," he said. "That will give us some significant direction in terms of how we plan our strategy and how we engage our stakeholders."

Expert concerns

Meanwhile, Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services (PATHS) hopes the numbers allow the province to target its efforts in the battle to reduce domestic violence.

She said 60 per cent of the homicides happened in rural areas, signalling a need for more services.

"That's reflecting the fact that there are less services and less access to police, to shelters, and a perception that there's a lack of confidential services available in rural areas," she said.

Dusel also believes stricter rules are needed around parental visits for separated couples, to better protect children. She said separation can be a serious risk factor in domestic homicide, and court-ordered visitation can make situations even more dangerous.

"When the parents separate, that does not mean that the children will be safe," she said. "There's very little consideration taken whether domestic violence is occurring when custody and access decisions are being made."

She also said the numbers show the continuing effects of colonialism. Twenty-seven of the victims in the study were Indigenous. Nineteen were Caucasian.

"We do know the impact of residential schools, of poverty, of poor living conditions on reserves in some cases, have certainly led to all sorts of violence," she said. "The fact that we're seeing higher rates of intimate partner violence among our Indigenous population is not really that surprising."

Steps forward

The government has tasked its domestic violence death review panel with doing an in-depth review of six cases of domestic homicide. 

Once that review is completed, likely by this fall, the panel will make recommendations.

In the meantime, Wyant said, the ministry is talking to groups that deal with domestic violence on developing a strategy around the issue.

With files from Bonnie Allen and Charles Hamilton