Inquest hears need for decreased tolerance for deviations from orders

·7 min read

Pembroke – The probation and parole quality assurance manager for Eastern Ontario told the coroner’s inquest into the 2015 deaths of three area Ottawa Valley women there should have been increases in case management and decreased tolerance for deviations from orders, as well as more direct and focused contact with victims after Basil Borutski was assessed as a high-risk re-offender.

Jamie Pearson said a series of risk assessments carried out during the two-year period between 2013 and 2015, using a variety of screening tools, were not consistent and ranged from low risk to extremely high risk. By February 2015, two assessment tools showed high risk and that the designation of an ISO (Increased Supervision Order) would have required more frequent check-ins with his probation officer following the perpetrator’s second assault charge on Anastasia Kuyzk.

Mr. Pearson said the other ‘red flags’ which were missed was that both Nathalie Warmerdam and Anastasia Kuyzk were reluctant to follow through on legal and protective actions because they feared being on Mr. Borutski’s radar again. His long record of withdrawn and stayed charges were also not considered when he was initially screened and considered to be a ‘low risk’ offender. The jury heard there were gaps in ‘collateral information’ including the fact that Mr. Borutski was well known for becoming violent when he drank alcohol, but he was never assessed or sent for substance abuse counselling.

The Eastern Ontario Death Report which identified Mr. Borutski as manipulative and antagonistic toward police and authority, also noted his refusal to take any responsibility for his actions, instead blaming his victims. His excuses and manipulations around attending the mandatory 12-week PAR (Partner Assault Program) were documented but he was never reprimanded for violating the conditions of his probation, partly because he had never been pinned down to a specific date for attending the PAR program. The probation officer who handled Mr. Borutski’s case did not testify.

Under questioning from Kristin Mercer, counsel to End Violence Against Women (EVA) Renfrew County, Mr. Pearson admitted the enforcement decisions and rationale for noncompliance were never documented nor was Mr. Borutski held accountable for his actions. Ms. Mercer pointed out that it was well known that a perpetrator’s sense that ‘he can get away with it’ is a huge factor in recidivism. A probation report commended actions taken by the probation officer which included consulting with the perpetrator’s doctor about his substance abuse; however, no action was taken. Mr. Pearson affirmed the probation officer is ultimately responsible for the management of the offender’s case.

The inquest also heard that a less difficult process to designate Dangerous Offender status would save lives. Under that designation, Mr. Borutski would have remained in prison as a person likely to reoffend. Crucial knowledge, such as information about previous charges withdrawn or stayed, would also provide a more accurate picture of the abuser.

Gaps Identified

As well as noting gaps in the delivery of probation services, the inquest also heard about the need for deep systemic change in the justice system. The inquest heard there is a lack of communication between criminal and family courts to prevent conflicting orders and missed safety concerns. There is currently no formalized process or mechanism to share information that would ensure both courts are aware of the risks to the victim.

Similarly, the process of risk screening and management needs to be more consistent between agencies which now use different tools to assess the perpetrator’s level of danger.

Currently, privacy issues prevent communication between two systems which often see a woman dealing with conflicting orders. Father’s rights to see their children are often used by the perpetrator as a tool to instill fear or compliance in the abused domestic partner.

“He is a father with conditions imposed on him because another judge thought he was violent -- but family court does not agree -- it is a complete breakdown of the systems -- you are imposing a burden on the survivor -- but you have to make arrangement to have your child see the father,” said Deepa Mattoo, Executive Director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic which represents underserved and marginalized women’s communities.

“It should be that when you take responsibility for your actions, when you get some help, if you comply with your criminal court orders, you get access to your children,” Ms. Mattoo told the inquest. “The system is routinely creating an environment for extreme retaliations; we are allowing it on a routine basis.”

She cited the lack of a data-based system where orders and enforcements can be tracked.

“In Family Court, we don’t use best practices and we can’t flag. We don’t have access to what is happening in our own justice system,” she said.

Rural and cultural elements were also cited as important factors in the on-going attempts to create awareness and develop public education around Intimate Partner Violence. Erin Lee, Executive Director of Lanark County Interval House and Community Support, spoke of the continued influence of traditional roles with the man as ‘king of the castle’ and breadwinner and with the woman as ‘the good wife.’ The presence of firearms in many rural homes can also be a source of fear and intimidation. Even in instances where guns have been removed, it is seen as a right to have them returned during hunting season.

Six Intimate Partner Deaths In Seven Months

Her presentation pointed out that what happens in one rural community impacts neighbouring communities which share similar problems of isolation, transportation and risk. There is an increase in crisis calls, trauma triggers, fear and abuser response. In seven months between 2015 and 2016 in rural Eastern Ontario, there were six Intimate Partner Violence deaths, including the three victims of Mr. Borutski.

Essential needs include education and awareness, beginning in junior kindergarten, and awareness of tools which the public can use, as well as better processes and monitoring in the justice system.

A public awareness campaign of “See it. Name it. Change it” enlists the entire community in the process of identifying and stopping partner violence.

“We need to not make it all a woman’s responsibility to deal with abuse. We need to start with men as children - give men off-ramps to deal with their issues,” Ms. Lee said.

Noted international opera singer Joshua Hopkins, testifying from Santa Fe, New Mexico where he is rehearsing, told the inquest “it shouldn’t have taken the murder of my sister to make me aware of Intimate Partner Violence.” Mr. Hopkins, younger brother of Nathalie Warmerdam, has turned his shock and grief into a series of musical compositions titled Songs for Murdered Sisters. Famed Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote the words for the songs. Mr. Hopkins joins the White Ribbon pledge which challenges all men to own responsibility to end violence against women.

“It is critical that men speak out; the white ribbon pledge is to ‘never commit, condone or remain silent about all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination’.”

Julie Lalonde, a women’s advocate and survivor of a 10 year stalking campaign by a former boyfriend said, “There has to be a huge effort toward educating the public and young people about healthy and positive masculinity.

“People see stalking or jealousy as signs of unconditional love or romance,” she said. “‘He’s just madly in love with you and can’t live without you.’”

She cited signs of ‘coercive control’, such as extreme jealousy, as red flags in a relationship.

“It’s easy to think everyone knows about this. Still, in 2022, we have so much work to do, there is a lack of public education and so many misconceptions about intimate partner violence.”

She also spoke of the importance of ‘bystander education’.

“People don’t know how to intervene or when they should intervene,” she added.

Seventy-two recommendations based on the submissions and evidence presented during the past three weeks were released on Friday by Inquest Counsel. Many are expected to be similar to the final jury findings. The inquest wraps up with final recommendations from the jury early next week.

Johanna Zomers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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