In the wake of a tragic murder-suicide that claimed four lives in Alberta recently, the province’s Minister of Human Services says the government could initiate a domestic homicide review committee as early as January.
The committee would investigate causal factors in domestic homicides by examining each homicide individually.
“When we look at instances of domestic violence, particularly those causing death, you’ve got to wonder, can we learn from it? Is there some way that we can honour the memory of those that were killed, at least by trying to figure out what might have happened, and what could happen for someone else?” said Dave Hancock.
The Human Services Ministry handles domestic violence issues and awareness, as well as the Integrated Threat and Risk Assessment Centre (I-TRAC), a multi-disciplinary unit composed of police, a Crown prosecutor, and psychologists that assess threats and develop risk-reduction plans for high-risk domestic violence.
But Hancock says it may be time to put more resources into “retrospective analysis” and investigating domestic homicides in a defined period of time soon after they occur.
“I’ve asked for a re-look at the family violence strategy to see what we can do better. … I’m anticipating some recommendations coming forward fairly quickly,” he said.
“I think in each case we need to examine them to see, were there signs, were there protective measures, were there strategies that could have been undertaken?”
Advocacy groups have been calling for the establishment of a review committee, especially in the wake of the shocking Dec.15 murder-suicide near Claresholm, Alberta.
Tabitha Stepple, 21, and friends Mitch MacLean, 20, and Tanner Craswell, 22, died at the hands of Stepple’s ex-boyfriend Derek Jensen when he ambushed the group’s SUV on Highway 2 and open fired in an apparent jealous rage.
Jensen also wounded passenger Shayna Conway, before turning the gun on himself.
“[A review panel] can serve as a means to monitor coordinated responses across the province and be a vehicle to share learning, best practices, and recommendations between them,” says Kevin McNichol, executive director of HomeFront, a Calgary-based domestic violence advocacy group.
“It can also serve as a means for communities, victims, and families to grieve, express their concerns and be heard while receiving answers and closure to very difficult and complex issues.”
Reviews faster, less expensive
Domestic violence fatality reviews are based on the idea that circumstances surrounding each death should be reviewed individually in order to identify patterns and risk factors that can lead to prevention.
Reviews are considered to be faster and less expensive than fatality inquiries, which must be conducted before a Provincial Court judge.
Alberta consistently has one of the highest reported rates of domestic violence in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. The Calgary Police Service alone received 13,496 calls pertaining to domestic violence in 2008-2009.
In 1999 The Protection Against Family Violence Act (PAFVA) was introduced in Alberta to help protect those affected by family violence.
The act was amended in November and December of this year to expand and strengthen the legislation, increase penalties, and provide better protection for victims.
Changes were made such as adding stalking to the definition of family violence, and protecting vulnerable people, such as seniors or individuals with disabilities, who are being abused by a family member who doesn’t live with them.
Domestic homicide death review committees were first created in the United States about 20 years ago, and the model has been adapted based on local circumstances in various jurisdictions.
Ontario was the first province in Canada to introduce a domestic homicide review panel, followed by Manitoba and New Brunswick.
The Ontario committee has identified a list of risk factors leading to domestic homicide, which include a recent separation, obsessive or controlling behaviour, failure to accept a breakup, and access to weapons.