Borutski trial part two: Whose voices will be heard?

courthouseConsidering that Basil Borutski has not spoken publicly since his interview with the police and the letter he wrote to the Ottawa Citizen two years ago, his voice was loud and very present in the first few days of his trial on three charges of first degree murder for the killings of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam.

Criminal trials are always about the accused, of course, and are not arenas for the victims of those crimes to speak, other than as witnesses for the Crown’s case.

This is, in fact, one of the criticisms often levelled at criminal law’s response to violence against women, whether that violence is in the form of sexual assault or what is commonly called domestic violence: survivors of male violence frequently feel that they have no voice.

Silencing women’s truths

Women report that they feel silenced from the time they make their statement to the police and through everything that follows. Indeed, many women refuse even to make a report to the police specifically because they know that their voice, their truth, their power will disappear once they do so.

Borutski’s trial is an especially interesting context in which to contemplate the question of voice, because his attempts to justify the killings have given expression to the all-too-common theme that somehow women are to blame when men hurt them.

While I don’t want to give a lot of space to the voice of the man charged with these murders, I do think it is important to examine what he has to say in this broader context, if we are to begin to change societal understandings of who is responsible for the violence that so many women are subjected to at the hands of men.

Whose truth matters?

As the Crown Attorney said in his opening statement:

“[t]hese murders are all about justice, his kind of justice. Justice where murders like these are justifiable, where women pay the ultimate price. . . justice where Borutski gets to be judge, jury and executioner, justice where there is only one truth that counts: his truth.”

We have now heard, because Borutski’s five-hour interview with the police the day after the killings was played in its entirety in the courtroom, just what Borutski’s ideas about truth and justice are.

And what did we hear? That killing someone is only murder if they are innocent of any wrongdoing. That these three women were not innocent but, in fact, had lied about him in court, had used “the system” to their advantage financially.

In his words:

“I killed them because they were not innocent.”

Again, in his words:

“Basil Borutski is a kind, caring, God-fearing human being.”

A different voice

In a recent commentary about director Harvey Weinstein, Rebecca Solnit has this to say about how violence against women is framed:

“Remember that every time a man commits a violent act it only takes one or two steps to figure out how it’s a woman’s fault.”

Basil Borutski would certainly agree with that.

Next week: Even as we listen to Borutski’s voice, let us hear the voices of women, who spoke out at vigils held during the first week of the trial and who speak out about male violence all the time, even though those voices are not always heard or believed.


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