She lost her daughter to domestic violence - now she's trying to make sure no one else loses theirs
Dawn Novak believes her daughter could still be alive today if not for mistakes made by authorities
As she opened the doors of Toronto Police College on Wednesday, Dawn Novak was transported in time, back to when she learned of her daughter's murder 12 painful years ago.
"When I walked in this morning, I saw the Toronto Police Services crest and it really sent a shiver. Because I haven't seen that crest in a long time, and it brings back the memories," Novak told CBC Toronto.
It's a loss that Novak has always maintained was preventable. Her daughter could still be alive today if not for mistakes made by authorities handling her case, Novak says.
After all, the warning signs came early. Only a few months into the relationship, Novak says she learned something was wrong.
'How can people make mistakes with a life?'
"At first I was devastated, just devastated. How can people make mistakes with a life?" Novak said. "Yet they happen, they happen in a busy world.
On Wednesday, however, she stood defiantly in front of a room full of police officers on a mission to try to prevent domestic violence from claiming the life of even one more person. Indeed, one woman is killed by her partner every six days, according to the Canadian Women's Foundation.
Women make up the overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims in Ontario. According to a 2016 report by the Office of the Chief Coroner, there were 388 homicides involving domestic violence in this province from 2002 to 2015. Of that number, 36 were children, 37 were men and 314 were women.
'Fundamental, systemic failure'
Natalie, her mother says, was like so many other women. "A very average, typical young woman who loved life, who wanted to live, who had great ambitions.
I believe that she would have liked a lesson to have come from it ... I do it for her.- Dawn Novak on her daughter Natalie's death
"She was a great kid and the ripple effect is everyone's loss," she said. "We lose these wonderful people, we lose what they could do, all the children that could come...There's loss in different layers, there's family loss, there's friends' loss."
"How Natalie's case was handled by the justice system (courts, bail programs, probation), the police, and the healthcare system — all of which have (or should have) policies designed to protect victims of domestic violence — reveals fundamental, systemic failure of procedural coordination and implementation," asserts the 2010 report.
In the years since, Toronto police detective Ann-Marie Tupling says the force has made tangible improvements, including implementing referrals to Victim Services, an arm's length support service for people affected by crime or tragedy, and establishing a detailed risk management tool that's passed on to the bail system to help gauge whether a perpetrator is likely to re-offend.
Much remains to be done, says mother of victim
But, she points out, much remains the same when it comes to the relationships between women and their abusers, including a fear of reporting violence, dependence on partners, not wanting to necessarily leave the relationship, or feeling tied to a partner because of children or finances.
Novak applauds the improvements, but says much remains to be done. The Novaks' report, for example, calls for the creation of a database of homicide perpetrators and victims so that various agencies involved in a case have a "complete picture" of the situation. That's something she hasn't yet seen done.
But being able to help educate officers about the warning signs is something Novak feels her daughter would have wanted to come from her death.
"I believe Natalie wanted it to be taught," she said.
"I believe that she would have liked a lesson to have come from it. So, I do that for the future," said Novak. "I do it for her."
As for her pain, she says she's learned to keep it separate from her work.
"I speak not as her mom, but as an educator ... And my private pain is my private pain," she said. "That's how I wear the two hats."
With files from Lorenda Reddekopp