Intimate partner violence

(Another) deadly year for Canadian women

Femicide is an epidemic, and things aren't getting better
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski
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When I first learned that Christine St-Onge, a 41-year-old Montreal woman, hadn’t returned from a vacation to Mexico, I hoped for the best but braced for the worst.

Her boyfriend, Pierre Bergeron, had returned home without her and killed himself the next day. My worst suspicions were confirmed when her battered body was found near the hotel.

A victim of intimate partner violence, St-Onge leaves behind two young children.

There is sadly nothing extraordinary or rare about women dying at the hands of the men they loved

As more details began to emerge, a former girlfriend of Pierre Bergeron came forward, revealing he had been an abusive and jealous man who often terrorized her and left her worried for her life. In the end, it was another woman’s life he took, but the signs of what he was capable of were already there.

Though St-Onge’s death took place outside of Canada, it was homegrown terror. But there is sadly nothing extraordinary or rare about women dying at the hands of the men they loved. Near-daily cases of intimate partner violence across the country persist, and 2018 was no different.

A woman killed every other day

At least 140 women and girls were killed, primarily by men, in Canada this year, according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability. Before the year comes to a close, that number may creep a little higher.

On average, one woman or girl is killed every other day in this country. And while well-meaning law enforcement, family members, and friends like to advise women on how to better protect themselves from violence as they navigate this big, bad world, almost half of the victims were killed in their homes — the place we should feel the safest.

The number of murdered women and girls may well be higher, which the Femicide Observatory admits, since some cases involving Indigenous women in remote communities may fly under the radar. Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than other women in Canada, and 16 times more likely than white women, states the interim report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Most of the women killed in 2018 were murdered by boyfriends or former boyfriends. This is not unique to Canada.

Do these numbers overwhelm? Are they hard to read? Do you find yourself skimming them and zoning out because there’s too much happening?

A recent Washington Post investigation of murders of women in many major U.S. cities in the past decade revealed that nearly half were killed by a current or former intimate partner. A similar trend can be found in the U.K., where at least 139 women were murdered by a man last year in England and Wales according to the latest Femicide Census report. Three quarters of the women were killed by someone they knew, and in cases where a man committed the murder, almost half were a partner or former partner of the woman. Nearly half of the cases involved extreme violence — one woman was stabbed 175 times — which advocates describe as “overkilling.”

Do these numbers overwhelm? Are they hard to read? Do you find yourself skimming them and zoning out because there’s too much happening? Are you compelled to say that men too are victims of homicide and intimate partner violence? Yes, but in drastically smaller numbers, and in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators are, once again, men. Men continue to be the problem; women continue to be the ones killed.

Reviewing 418 cases of domestic homicide that involved 476 victims from 2010 to 2015, the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations released its findings on Dec. 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which commemorates the senseless murder of 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique almost three decades ago. It found that 80 per cent of the victims were women. That’s not just a higher number of women victims compared to male ones. That’s an epidemic.

Most femicides in Ontario, yet Ford slashes funding

At the mid-year point, the Femicide Observatory revealed that half of the femicides thus far in Canada in 2018 had occurred in Ontario. It’s a dubious record to have, and one that should alarm the province.

And yet, two months after that gruesome statistic was released in August, Premier Doug Ford dissolved Ontario’s Provincial Roundtable on Violence against Women, an expert panel established under the Liberals to offer strategic advice on policies regarding violence against women. Ford also refused to give sexual assault centres access to already-budgeted funding increases.

Canadians, like many in the Western world, seem to think violence against women is a problem that plagues only the Global South or places where women enjoy fewer legal rights. Violence against women at home continues to be treated as a sad oddity, an exception to the rule, a tragic occasional statistic, the consequence of bad decisions or an inability to see red flags, something that can be avoided by playing your cards right, taking precautions, being smart — not the widespread epidemic that it truly is.

Femicide is routine in Canada

This isn’t a festive or fun final column for 2018. It isn’t a happy listicle or holiday countdown to a new year but a desperately needed reminder that violence against women is a routine affair in this country.

As the year comes to an end, I think of 58-year-old Edra Haan, whose husband murdered her and then set fire to their house to cause an explosion. I think of 18-year-old Daphné Boudreault, who was stabbed to death after ending a two-year relationship with her murderer. I think of 34-year-old Josiane Arguin, killed by her boyfriend and her body brutally dismembered. I think of 22-year-old Cassidy Bernard, a young Mi’kmaw woman found dead in her home, leaving behind infant twins. I think of 39-year-old Krassimira Pejcinovski, who was murdered, along with her 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, by her boyfriend. I think of 19-year-old Ophélie Martin-Cyr, shot in the back, whose body was found in a field.

They are just a few of the women killed in Canada this year, and the one thing I know for certain is that they won’t be the last.

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