Just shy of four months ago, on June 28th, the jury in the inquest into the deaths of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam returned its verdict, which included 86 recommendations for change.
Inquest jury recommendations are non-binding, which means there is no legal obligation on anyone to implement them.
To this date, the provincial government has not indicated how or when it intends to respond to the inquest recommendations. While, of course, work may be going on behind the scenes, the history of femicide inquests in Canada has taught us that governments do not move quickly – or at all — to provide a meaningful response. Over the next few months, spreadsheets and charts will no doubt be developed, by the provincial government in particular, purporting to show steps taken in response to the inquest, but without a public call for implementation of the recommendations, the likelihood of substantive action is minimal.
For this reason, violence against women organizations and others across the province are working hard to raise awareness about the recommendations and the need for advocacy to see them implemented. Here’s a small — and incomplete — snapshot of what’s happening so far.
Building a Bigger Wave (BBW), a network of community violence against women coordinating committees, is dedicating its next newsletter to the inquest recommendations. In November, the Learning Network will be hosting a webinar panel discussion of people involved in the inquest to talk about implementation advocacy. Communities across the province are holding forums and public meetings to discuss what they can do to support the recommendations. Three counties in western Ontario are holding a one-day forum for community leaders to develop a rural response to the recommendations. Lanark County Interval House is working with their local radio station, which is featuring one recommendation a week for 86 weeks. The Windsor VAW coordinating committee is holding a domestic violence death workshop after three women in that community were murdered in less than a year. The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), working with BBW, continues its “We Count Femicide Because . . . “ campaign to raise a public alarm every time a femicide occurs in Ontario.
A toolkit for action
I am really excited to announce that, as part of this effort, Luke’s Place Support and Resource Centre has launched a toolkit for organizations and individuals wishing to engage in advocacy to support implementation of the recommendations.
We developed it to assist those without the time or resources to create their own advocacy strategy and tools. It reflects the priorities we have identified for ourselves, based on our organization’s mandate, and is certainly not meant to limit or lead the thinking about what recommendations to focus on or what kinds of strategies to use.
We produced these tools quickly, for those needing support now to get moving on advocating for whatever recommendations are most important to them. The toolkit is an ongoing work in progress and will grow over time. Our next goal is to develop template op eds and letters to the editor as well as fact sheets on key recommendations and discussion papers on some of the law-reform-related recommendations. We welcome feedback, constructive criticism, suggestions and contributions from anyone who shares our goal of seeing the inquest recommendations get implemented.
Individuals can advocate too
You don’t have to be part of an organization to take action to support implementation of the recommendations. Politicians listen and respond to the concerns of their constituents, so the Luke’s Place toolkit includes a one-pager to assist individuals who want to be involved with this campaign. Some suggested actions for individuals are:
- Identify a few recommendations that are most important or relevant to you and focus on those
- Make use of any connections you have with municipal, provincial or federal politicians and their senior staff
- Use skills you already have: if you are a good writer, write letters to decision-makers, a letter to the editor or an op ed; if your strength is in speaking, set up meetings with politicians and tell them why it is important for the recommendations to be implemented; if you have lots of social contacts, engage them in joining you;
- If you are an avid Twitter user, tweet comments about individual recommendations on a regular basis
- Connect with women’s organizations in your community and support their advocacy efforts
Consider timing some of your activities to coincide with existing dates focused on gender-based violence. November 25 is the International Day to End Violence Against Women and the first of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which end on December 10, World Human Rights Day. Of course, in Canada, December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Any of those dates is a good opportunity to draw the attention of decision-makers to the inquest recommendations.
The time is now
Femicide, including intimate partner and domestic homicide, remains at high levels in this country: according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, 233 women were killed by men in Canada in 2021. In only 5% of those cases was the killer a stranger to the woman.
The CKW inquest leaves behind a public record of three acts of femicide as well as a rich body of expert evidence and thoughtful recommendations for system change.
It is now up to all of us to ensure that the hard work and heartache of those involved with the inquest was not in vain.