EDMONTON—An emotional recounting of her own harrowing history as a victim of domestic violence has earned an NDP politician a standing ovation and support from all members of the Alberta legislature.
Maria Fitzpatrick, member for Lethbridge-East, rose Monday to address the assembly in support of Bill 204, a private member’s bill put forward by Independent MLA Deborah Drever.
The bill would allow victims of domestic violence to break their leases without financial penalty, thereby making it easier for them to escape abusive situations.
Fitzpatrick told the house that at one point during her troubled nine-year marriage to her ex-husband, who has since died, she awoke to find he was pointing a gun to the back of her head.
She recalled hearing the clicking sound of the hammer as the trigger was pulled, and his hysterical laughter as she realized there were no bullets in the gun. She said he threatened her that the next time, there would be bullets.
He told her he would kill their daughters first, in order to see her pain, and then he would kill her.
“I knew it would be just a matter of time before he followed through on these threats.”
Fitzpatrick, who was born and raised in Newfoundland, got married on Sept. 5, 1972, and almost immediately knew she was in trouble.
Through the course of their marriage, she said she suffered broken bones, black eyes, sexual assault, and two miscarriages as a result of the abuse.
“Three times I left with my kids,” she said. “Twice I went to shelters. Twice I was forced to return or live on the street. Both times I returned and the violence got worse and the threats, which he could have carried out at any time, became more frequent and more intimidating.”
She said because she hadn’t had any previous experience with abuse before the marriage, she was not prepared for it and didn’t know how to protect herself or her children.
The first time she went to a women’s shelter, she was only allowed to stay for two weeks so when that time was up, she went home.
The second time, she was more prepared, having contacted a lawyer and saved up some money. But she couldn’t get a court date and this time the shelter only allowed her to stay three weeks.
“Again, I had to go back,” she said. “There were no supports left after the shelter.”
Arrest, But No Peace
After the incident with the gun, she called police and her husband was finally arrested and a restraining order put in place. But there was no peace.
“I called the police 16 times in two weeks before he was arrested again. Not so much for assaulting me but because he broke the restraining order.”
Eventually, he was sentenced to a year in jail but was released immediately because of the amount of time he had spent on remand.
“He turned and as he was leaving the courtroom, he said he would kill me,” she recalled.
“I asked the judge how he could let him go, and the judge said to me it’s a marital issue, get a divorce and leave. He proceeded then to give me a lecture on how much it was going to cost to keep him in jail.
“When I returned to my house, he was there, holding my children and my mother-in-law at the point of a gun. At the end of a four-hour ordeal, his mother rose and asked God to help us, and he ran from the house.”
That’s when she got away for good, gathering up her children and leaving their home in Cincinnati by getting on a Greyhound bus and travelling for 62 hours to get to Yellowknife. A little more than a decade later, she learned her ex-husband was dead and she realized she could finally stop looking over her shoulder.
She went on to dedicate 30 years of her life to working in corrections, first as a parole officer and ultimately at the National Headquarters of the Correctional Service of Canada, working in policy and project management.
“My support for this bill comes from the middle of this experience and this trap—a trap that was intentionally or unintentionally supported by society,” said Fitzpatrick. “Silence, blame, guilt, and little to no support grew this injustice for decades, if not centuries.
“This should never have happened to me, or these situations to anybody else. My children have been scarred for their lives and I will be horrified if anybody in this chamber votes against this bill.”
The house unanimously passed second reading of the bill.