Ottawa Valley Triple Homicide Inquest Experts Urge Action on Future Recommendations
Experts at a coroner’s inquest into the murders of three rural Ontario women by the same man are calling for more oversight to ensure that recommendations stemming from intimate partner violence inquests actually result in change.
“If there’s no recommendation to hold someone accountable for implementing those recommendations, we’re going to wonder why we spent three weeks in this room,” said Pamela Cross, a lawyer and advocate. women testifying before a panel of experts on day two of the inquest.
On September 22, 2015, Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were murdered by the same man in Renfrew County, west of Ottawa. The killer, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 70 years, knew the three women.
The inquest into their deaths began on Monday and is expected to hear about 30 witnesses over 15 days in Pembroke, Ontario.
In addition to examining the circumstances surrounding the murders, the five jurors are tasked with recommending concrete ways to better protect and support victims of domestic violence in rural communities.
Cross said an independent commission is needed to hold accountable groups that face the recommendations of the inquiry. The Ontario government is expected to take on many of the jury’s recommendations.
“There are a lot of people who are really sick of telling those in power what needs to happen, when nothing ever changes,” Cross said.
The commission should be led by people knowledgeable about the issue of domestic violence, she added.
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More than 100 more feminicides since the triple homicide
Marlene Ham, executive director of the Ontario Association of Interval and Halfway Houses, said her organization is aware of 111 media-reported intimate partner femicides in Ontario since the day after the Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam murders. through November 26, 2021, when the most recent data was available.
“We keep getting more every month,” Ham said. “That’s why having recommendations with an accountability process can be really, really important.
“These deaths are preventable.”
After an investigation, the Office of the Chief Coroner sends recommendations to the organizations concerned for their implementation. Recipients are requested to respond within six months to indicate whether or not the recommendations have been implemented and, if not, to indicate their justification.
Ontario also has a Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, which reviews domestic murders of women, men and children. The committee has made more than 400 recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths resulting from the review of more than 250 cases through 2018. Organizations are also asked to report back within six months.
Data on the response to committee recommendations does not appear to be available, even upon request. And no changes recommended by the committee or inquest juries are legally binding.
Amanda Dale, former executive director of a gender-based violence clinic in Toronto, is attending the inquest. She agreed that greater accountability is needed to follow up on recommendations.
“It gives people confidence in the systems we have in place,” she said. “If we don’t make that change, if we don’t have an accountability mechanism, then I’m afraid we’re just reporting.”
Previous investigations involving intimate partner violence have resulted in calls for a committee of government and non-government members to oversee the process of implementing the recommendations – which did not happen, according to the investigation.
More than physical violence
Cross and the other panel members also spoke about the range of abuse, not just physical, that victims of domestic violence experience, as well as the challenges victims face when dealing with abusers.
Cross said the abuse can be financial and psychological. She cited a woman who sought help from Luke’s Place, a family law support center serving residents of the Regional Municipality of Durham. Cross said the woman’s partner had control of their home’s smart home system and used it to abuse her by playing music and turning down the heat.
Basil Borutski, the man convicted of the Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam murders, burned sentimental childhood artifacts belonging to Kuzyk. He left signs at the Culleton-owned cottage, where he performed unsolicited work on the house, said Mark Zulinski, a retired Ontario Provincial Police inspector, who provided insight into the behavior of Borutsky.
Borutski was on probation and under a lifetime weapons ban when he carried out his murderous rampage. Two of his victims were shot dead.
Access to firearms increases women’s risk of domestic violence by 500 percent, Ham said.
Valerie Warmerdam, the daughter of Nathalie Warmerdam, one of Borutski’s victims, testified Monday to a conversation her mother had with a neighbor who said he had an abusive stepfather growing up.
The neighbor told Nathalie Warmerdam that if a gun had been available to him, he probably would have killed his stepfather, Valerie Warmerdam said.
The threat posed by Borutski prompted Nathalie Warmerdam to keep a self-defense weapon under her bed, Valerie Warmerdam added.
Lisa Oegema, the last expert to testify on Tuesday, was the founding executive director of Victim Services Renfrew County.
She said the small size of communities in the county can harm victims.
“It can work in your favor – if [people] getting violence against women,” Oegema said. “It can work against you because it’s a gossip community.”
Valerie Warmerdam testified Monday that when her mother filed a complaint against Borutski, friends came to their house “and had a conversation like, ‘How could you?'”
Facing such social stigma is “certainly a factor” when a victim wonders whether to press charges, she added.