It is easy, in the business of a criminal trial with its focus on the accused person, to almost lose sight of the victim of the crime. Sometimes, the victim may choose to be silent; may not wish to engage with the criminal process any more than is minimally necessary; may not want to talk to the media or have a public presence. Other times, the silence is the result of a publication ban, which is intended to protect the privacy of the victim of the crime. Because victims of crime do not have their own lawyer, they don’t have anyone with an official role in the process who can speak for them or support them in speaking themselves.
In this case, the voices of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were permanently silenced on September 22, 2015, when they were murdered.
But, because what matters in a story like this one, is much more than what happens inside the criminal process, there are plenty of other voices we need to make space for; the voices of the friends and family members of the murdered women; of their wider communities and of women’s activists and advocates.
Why do we need these voices?
These voices, in all of their diversity, will enrich our understanding of what happened two years ago, not in terms of Basil Borutsky’s criminal liability, but in terms of why violence against women remains such a prevalent social reality.
We need to hear the grief, the pain and the anger that resulted from the murders of these three women and to understand it in the broader context of the violence women around the world are subjected to every day.
We can only hear the many truths that make up this story when we hear from a diversity of voices, both inside and outside the courtroom.
What do we need to hear?
Even though it is not relevant to the guilt or innocence of the accused person, we need to hear about the women whose lives were ended by their murders. Who were they? Who loved and cared about them?
We can hear these truths when we listen to the voices of friends and family members.
We also need to understand how the murders of three women affect an entire community; how it changes how people look at one another; the way they think about themselves, their community, safety.
We can hear these truths when we listen to the voices of community members.
Apparently, we need to hear that violence perpetrated against women is never our fault. This is something the accused does not seem to understand, but that lack of understanding extends far beyond Borutski.
Women continue to be blamed for the violence we are subjected to: by popular culture, music, mainstream media, politicians, police officers, members of the public. Women in abusive relationships are blamed for leaving and are blamed for staying. Women who are sexually assaulted are blamed for telling and blamed for not telling.
We can hear these truths from women’s rights activists and advocates.
Where can we hear these voices?
We can hear the voices of some friends and family members in the trial itself, when they testify for the Crown as it builds its case against Basil Borutski.
Women activists and advocates as well as community members have been speaking out since the day after the murders happened: at vigils, marches and Take Back the Night events. Those voices have appeared in OpEds and letters to the editor in community newspapers, as well as daily regional and national newspapers, in interviews with television and radio news programs; on social media.
The voices are there; it is our responsibility to make sure we hear them. As musician Owen Pallette wrote in 2014, after women began speaking out about Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual assaults of them:
“Let’s be clear. Whether the court decides that predatory men are punished or exonerated does not silence the voices of the victims. It does not make victims liars. Whether our culture continues to celebrate the works of predatory men is another issue. It does not silence the voices of the victims.”