As I follow this trial and read the evidence that is being presented by the Crown, evidence to support the three charges of first-degree murder that Basil Borutski is facing, I find myself needing to put this story in a bigger context.
I alluded to this in my post last week, in which I said that what matters is more than what happens in the criminal process, more than the guilt or innocence of an individual man (although, let me be clear, that matters a great deal, too).
We need to enrich our understanding of why, when we have taken vast steps forward to address other serious social inequities, violence against women remains such a pervasive global reality.
Haven’t we heard this story before?
Another trial of a man accused of killing a woman with whom he was once involved is unfolding in Ontario this week. I am referring, of course, to the trial of Dellen Millard and his one-time best friend Mark Smich, who have been charged with first-degree murder in the disappearance and presumed killing of Laura Babcock.
What ties these two stories of femicide together for me is the apparent casualness of the men who have been accused of these killings; the apparent disregard for the lives they have ended; the seeming sense that what they did was justified or, at the very least, not criminal; the outright arrogance of their behaviours.
Learning from what we hear
Just look at some of what we have heard in the two trials:
- In Borutski’s statement to the police, he went to great lengths to point out the difference between killing someone, which he says is neither immoral nor criminal, and murdering someone. For him, the distinction lies in whether or not the person killed is “innocent,” apparently by his standard of innocence. He claims that “his” bible says that of the two, only murder is wrong
- In the two weeks before he killed Carol Culleton, Borutski sent her more than 150 text messages. These messages became increasingly accusatory. He claimed she had destroyed their friendship, which he said was “more” than a friendship, and that she was living a lie. In one of his last texts to her, he wrote: “You are a cruel and vindictive self-centred human being. You have no heart and no conscience. Karma will pay for your heartless ways.”
- Dellen Millard sent a text to his girlfriend a couple of months before Laura Babcock disappeared in which he wrote: “First, I am going to hurt her. Then I’ll make her leave. I will remove her from our lives.”
- When the incinerator Millard bought in the spring of 2012 was set up and operational shortly after Laura Babcock was last seen, he texted Mark Smich to say the “BBQ is ready for meat.”
- Shortly after the date police believe Laura Babcock was killed and incinerated, Mark Smich wrote a rap song, which he videotaped, about killing a woman and disposing of her body
Misogyny one more time
The arrogance of both Borutski and Millard in representing themselves; the coldness of their respective approaches to their trials, also strikes me as part of the bigger, systemic story.
That is the story of misogyny, which gives all men the leading role in their relationships with women. There are, of course, many men who reject that role in favour of working towards relationships with women – whether work, social or personal – that are rooted in equality and respect.
Men who abuse women, however, embrace that leading role. Their relationships with women are rooted in attitudes that say to those women:
“I am the man and, so, my needs and desires come first. Your opinions are worthless. Your role is to support me, no matter what. You do not have the right to challenge me. If I decide you have wronged me, I am justified in making you pay a price for that. That price might be your freedom, your sense of self, your children or it might be your life. My truth is the only truth that matters.”
As long as misogyny persists, women will continue to be subjected to male violence in every arena of our lives.
Just in case that had slipped my mind for an instant, a 70-year-old man shot and killed his 76-year-old wife in the emergency department of an Ontario hospital while I sat at my computer writing this post. A close relative of Helen Ryan, the woman who was killed, said:
“I did expect him to kill her sometime . . . . He was a violent, horrible man. He had threatened Helen many times. She had no money of her own. . . . He completely had her under his thumb.”