The Renfrew County Courthouse, located in Pembroke, is a beautiful mix of old and new, with modern offices and courtrooms encased in the shell of the original courthouse, built in the 1860s. The County Atlas of 1881 called it “one of the finest courthouses in Canada,” and in 2009, the Ontario Association of Architecture presented it with two awards: People’s Choice and Design Excellence.
Its beauty, both inside and out, was in sharp contrast to the proceedings on December 5 and 6: the sentencing of Basil Borutski for the murders of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton.
Borutski had already been found guilty of two counts of first degree murder, for which he faced an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years, and one of second degree murder, which also carries with it an automatic life sentence. The parole ineligibility period for second degree murder convictions is from 10 to 25 years.
Justice Maranger had two issues to address in sentencing: what should the parole ineligibility period on the second-degree murder conviction be and should the three parole ineligibility periods run consecutively or concurrently?
The Crown Attorney sought a 20 year parole ineligibility on the second degree conviction and for all three periods of parole ineligibility to run consecutively, to a total of 70 years (25 + 25 + 20) before Borutski could even apply for parole.
James Foord, the lawyer appointed to act as amicus curiae for Borutski, argued that Borutski should be allowed to apply for parole after 40 years.
In addition to submissions from the Crown Attorney and the amicus curiae, Justice Maranger heard a number of impact statements. In victim impact statements read by the Crown, friends and family members of the murdered women talked about the impact of Borutski’s violence on their lives now and for the years to come. As Nathalie Warmerdam’s father, Frank John Hopkins, wrote:
“It would be nice to think that he was remorseful . . . but he has shown no [such] desire. Instead, he holds on to the belief that the rest of the world is to blame for his downfall and he is determined to get justice.”
The court also heard a community impact statement, prepared by End Violence Against Women Renfrew County, a violence against women advocacy group. Such impact statements are not common in Canadian law, but this case is an ideal example of when one is appropriate. This statement read, in part:
“Many in our community would like to believe that the murders of these three women were the act of a deranged, mentally ill man, but we know that is not true. Like most abusive men, the murderer refused to take responsibility for his acts of violence. His hatred, his mistrust and his mistreatment of women continued to escalate, accepted by his like-minded, misogynistic peer group.”
The community statement also noted that women living in rural communities face:
“unique vulnerabilities, such as personal isolation due to vast geography, no public transportation, women’s economic realities, potentially long crisis response times, lack of privacy and confidentiality, concerns about where to hide and be safe and a lack of community resources due to funding by population,”
December 6 sentence
On December 6, the flags outside the courthouse flew at half-mast to commemorate the Montreal massacre as people filed into Courtroom One to hear Justice Maranger’s sentencing decision.
He spoke strongly and compassionately about the horrors of Borutski’s actions, their impact on friends and family members of Anastasia, Nathalie and Carol as well as on the larger community and the need for the sentence to reflect all of this:
“From time to time, a crime is so deplorable, so devoid of mercy, so cold-blooded, that denunciation, retribution and giving a sense of justice to the many victims and the community at large becomes the paramount and virtually singular consideration. This is one such case.”
He called Borutski a “violent, vindictive, calculating abuser of women who seems incapable of taking responsibility for his many wrongs and who took his hatred to its ultimate climax,” noting that he appointed himself “judge, jury and executioner against three beloved, innocent women.”
Justice Maranger then imposed a parole ineligibility period of 70 years on Borutski; by Canadian standards, an extraordinary penalty. As Borutski was taken out of the courtroom, where he had remained silent and disengaged as he had throughout most of his trial, there was an almost inaudible, gentle exhaling of breath in the body of the courtroom, as though people were heaving a sigh of relief to be able to put this behind them.
There is no sentence that can bring back the three women murdered by Borutski. However, as Nathalie Warmerdam’s friend Tracey McBain said when leaving the courthouse:
“My friend’s life was valued, and the sentence put the weight on that value, for all of the victims and their families. . . At least this part’s over. We can be relieved of that.”
As for the future, consider the words of Nathalie’s daughter Valerie, who is cautiously hopeful that the murder of her mother, Anastasia and Carol may lead to substantive change:
“There’s certainly been some increased awareness and there’s a lot of people pushing for change and using this as their foothold for change. I’m certainly hoping and waiting to hear bills that actually sound like they’re going to make a difference being suggested, but I continue to wait. We’ll see.”