After hearing from witnesses for 14 days, asking lots of questions and reading volumes of materials, on Friday afternoon the inquest jurors heard for the last time from the lawyers for the parties, Valerie Warmerdam (Nathalie’s daughter, who has been representing herself brilliantly throughout the inquest) and Leslie Reaume, the inquest’s presiding officer, before retiring to consider what recommendations to put forward in their verdict. They took with them approximately 70 recommendations developed by the lawyers (including Valerie) for their consideration. The jury can include all, some or none of those recommendations, amend them and add further recommendations that they develop.
Here are some of the ideas that I think will find their way into the verdict.
Systems accountability has been a key theme throughout the inquest, so it is very likely the jury will make a recommendation for the establishment of some kind of properly funded body that would ensure transparency and accountability by government and other institutions in their work to address IPV. There is a model to look to for inspiration: the UK’s Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
The community has been clear in its concern that the recommendations from this inquest actually get implemented, so I think we’ll see a recommendation for the establishment of an implementation or oversight committee with membership from both government and community-based IPV experts. Perhaps the jury will call for any government ministry or other institution provided with a recommendation to advise the Chief Coroner when it has been complied with or to provide an explanation if it is not.
The inquest has heard a lot about the need for improved communication and information sharing, so we are bound to see recommendations that speak to that. Those might include:
- The need to address IPV issues using an all-of-government approach, rather than siloeing individual pieces of work within separate ministries
- Involving municipal and regional governments in the work
- Creating avenues so that different legal systems — in particular, family and criminal – are required to share safety-related information with one another
- Ensuring that reliable and consistent safety-related information is provided to the public in a timely and accessible manner
- Expanding cell service and high-speed internet in rural and remote areas of Ontario to improve safety and access to services
Show me the money
Not surprisingly, providing adequate funding for the work and to support survivor safety was a key issue that arose at the inquest. The jury will be considering recommendations that speak to:
- Ensuring adequate and stable funding for all organizations providing IPV support services, with new funding formulas that recognize the realities of rural communities
- Creating an emergency fund to support IPV survivors who are taking steps to seek safety
- Increasing funding to support work being done with IPV perpetrators
Keeping survivors safer
On the first day of the inquest, Valerie Warmerdam told us not to think of men who abuse women as “monsters,” and said that placing more harm on abusers doesn’t help survivors. She urged the jury to think about ways to better support perpetrators as part of the work to help keep victims safe.
Along those lines, the jury is likely to present recommendations to improve services for perpetrators, using an approach that is not “one size fits all.”
Other possible recommendations:
- Developing a common framework for risk assessment
- amending the Family Law Act so counselling for IPV perpetrators can be ordered by the court
- enhancing high-risk committees to include IPV providers as permanent members
- exploring the possibility of developing a protocol to permit disclosure of information about a person’s history of IPV, often referred to as Clare’s Law
- improving the supervision of high-risk IPV offenders while on bail or probation
- enhancing criminal court supports for IPV survivors, possibly using the family court support worker and sexual assault independent legal advice programs as models
- conducting a comprehensive, independent, and evidence-based review of Ontario’s mandatory charging framework, with particular attention to any unintended negative consequences.
And everything else
The jury was encouraged by the lawyers for the parties and Valerie to consider recommendations related to guns, keeping in mind both women’s safety and the legitimate need for and use of guns in rural communities.
There was talk about the need for the Office of the Chief Coroner to review the mandate of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee and provide it with increased supports.
Finally, the jury was asked to make some recommendations to the federal government:
- to add the term femicide, with a definition, to the Criminal Code
- to amend the dangerous offender provisions of the Criminal Code to better protect survivors of IPV
- to assess whether the current criminal harassment provisions adequately capture the impact of stalking on survivors
- to implement the National Action Plan on VAW/GBV
After 20 nights in the same hotel room, I headed home on Saturday, but I am back in Pembroke today to hear the reading of the verdict, which I will share with you later this week.