We remember

September 22, 2022, marked the seventh anniversary of the murders of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam. The community of Renfrew County marked the day by unveiling a pebble mosaic, installed in Barry’s Bay’s Watertower Park, to honour the three women. The mosaic was created by the community, under the guidance of artist Anna Camilleri, over the months leading up to the event last week. As JoAnne Brooks, coordinator of Ending Violence Against Women Renfrew County said:

“It’s very much rooted in the community. It’s the message the community wanted to convey, and in reverence for the three women who were murdered.”

The 150 or so people who gathered for the unveiling were there for more than the chance to see their work in its final form; many were hoping to hear an announcement from the government about its plans to implement the recommendations arising from the June inquest into the triple femicide.

They left disappointed.

The sound of silence

Despite the presence of John Yakabuski, the Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP, Attorney General Doug Downey and Minister of Women’s Social and Economic Opportunities Charmaine Williams, no government commitments were forthcoming.

The majority of the inquest jury’s 86 recommendations are directed at the provincial government, but other recommendations call for action by the Chief Firearms Officer, the Office of the Chief Coroner, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and the federal government.

Notably, inquest recommendations are non-binding, which means the government and other entities to which recommendations are directed have no legal obligation to implement them. Nonetheless, and while there may be work going on behind the scenes, the government’s silence on its intentions with respect to the recommendations is deafening.

As unacceptable as this is, it shouldn’t be surprising. Two previous inquests into intimate partner homicides – the 1998 Arlene May inquest and the Gillian Hadley inquest four years later – resulted in hundreds of recommendations, few of which have been meaningfully implemented.

Grassroots advocacy

Many people had hoped for at least a gesture of good faith from the government at last week’s anniversary ceremony. Despite those hopes, some of us were already organizing in the event it was not forthcoming. We don’t intend to wait for Doug Ford’s caucus to move in a timely or meaningful way to make this province a safer place for women. Work is underway to set up a loose advocacy coalition and to develop and disseminate tools to support that advocacy.

Some recommendations will take time to implement, but others can and should be acted on immediately. Here are just two of the many we will be focusing on in our upcoming advocacy efforts.

As I wrote here in July, when the jury read out its first recommendation – that the province declare femicide to be an epidemic – the excitement of those in the room was palpable, and rightly so. Implementation of this recommendation would send a clear message to Ontario decision-makers that IPV is a serious social and public health issue. Labelling it as an epidemic would help Ontarians generally understand that IPV is a legitimate health issue. It would create a new lens through which policy, program and service decisions could be made. It would validate the realities of tens of thousands of women who have been or are being victimized by an abusive partner.

Equally important is the recommendation calling for the creation of a provincial implementation committee to ensure that the recommendations of this inquiry are comprehensively considered and any responses are fully reported and published. The jury recommended that the committee consist of equal numbers of government and community members and that it be chaired by a community IPV expert to speak “freely” on progress (or, presumably, lack thereof). This kind of oversight would make it more likely that governments of any political stripe would act when presented with femicide inquest recommendations.

No time to waste

As the reports of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee tell us again and again, the vast majority of domestic homicides are both predictable and preventable. Yet they continue: at least 237 women in Ontario have been killed in acts of femicide since the 2015 triple killing, and five women were murdered over the three weeks of the inquest; two of them the evening before the jury returned its verdict.

Just think about the murder of Savanna Pikuyak earlier this month in Ottawa, by a man who had a history of IPV that led to multiple criminal convictions and yet was released from jail for reasons of “inmate safety.”

When probation authorities notified his former partner of his upcoming release and the reason for it, she responded by saying: “What about my safety?” She was encouraged to create a safety plan, and then chastised when she responded by saying she had a loaded gun to protect herself.

I wish this were an unusual story, but it’s not. The man who killed Carol, Anastasia and Nathalie in 2015, like many abusers, had a long history of violence against his partners. Clearly, our systemic responses are not working.

Implementation of the 86 recommendations produced by the jury in this most recent inquest will not, on its own, end femicide, but it would move us along the right path to significantly reducing the number of women and children who are killed in this province.

We’ll be raising our voices everywhere we can to call out the provincial government on its responsibility to take action so the deaths of Carol, Anastasia, Nathalie and so many other women and children can have some measure of meaning.

The jury’s final recommendation was that the inquest parties reconvene in one year’s time to discuss the progress made in implementing the recommendations. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could tick off some of the 86 actions called for in their verdict?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *