I have the privilege of following this trial from a distance, never in the courtroom, measuring how much of it I can manage at any time and only hearing what I do through the somewhat neutralizing intermediary force of the news media.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to sit in the courtroom day after day, whether as a friend or family member of one of the murdered women, a member of the community who is bearing witness, a police officer involved in the case or the Crown Attorney who is prosecuting it.
I also cannot imagine what it must be like for Basil Borutski, although the truth is that I am not very concerned about that.
Reducing women’s lives to legal evidence
Even taken in small doses from a distance, this trial is hard on the soul. It is not easy to see the lives of three vibrant women reduced to legal evidence; to hear from their friends and families but never from them. I find myself turning to images like this one of the Renfew County memorial to murdered women, just to reassure myself that the women at the heart of these stories still exist; still matter.
We may not be hearing from the women, but we are certainly hearing from Borutski, even though he is continuing his silence in the courtroom save for the occasional flurry of hand waving and note taking. His voice, his truth, is persistent and loud: Basil Borutski has had a lot to say, most of which he put into writing in the days leading up to September 22 and on that day itself, and those writings are all being presented as evidence to the court.
Of course, this evidence is critically important to the jury, which has to determine whether or not, beyond a reasonable doubt, Borutski is guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and, if the issue is raised by either the accused or the Crown, whether he is not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.
Just what does he have to say?
But what he has to say is also important in a bigger arena, as we consider the ways in which misogyny creates the stage on which violence against women is acted out. Because Borutski has been so loquacious in his writings, we have a rare opportunity to see inside his mind; a mind that is not so very different from the minds of many abusive men.
While perhaps more direct and less sophisticated in how he puts it than many abusers, Borutski is not unique in appointing himself judge of women he perceives to have done him wrong.
First, he condemns them:
“I have been judged wrongly. Now ye shall be judged by me. . . .The system is being used by women who are in a rage-hate-revenge.”
Then, he imposes his punishment:
“I CAN’T TAKE IT anymore . I’m getting out and I’m taking as many that have abused me as possible with me.”
Both these comments appeared in a letter received by his probation officer five days after the three women were killed, apparently written by Borutski.
Like many men who engage in abusive behaviour, Borutski sees himself as an innocent. Elsewhere in the same letter, he writes:
“I am a caring, loving human being. I hate violence. I have been wrongfully accused of hurting, assaulting women numerous times. That is not true.”
Further on in the letter to the probation officer, Borutski says what we hear abusive men say time and time again, whether in family or criminal court or in conversation with friends and family members:
“I AM NOT GUILTY. I am the victim.”
Text messages sent from Borutski’s phone while he was hiding from the police on September 22nd continue to express the same misogynist ideas and thoughts:
“The guilty have paid . . . justice finally . . . I m tired.”
“Murder is killing something innocent. I didn’t.”
So, what do we think?
Are these the ravings of a man who should not be held criminally responsible for his actions by reason of mental disorder or are they simply the usual thoughts of another abusive man, supported by the misogyny and patriarchy that continues to thrive around the world?